WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to make critical investments in working families, public health and medical research, and economic development, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved the FY2018 Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-H) Appropriations Bill.

U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) was among those on the committee who voted 29-2 in favor of the bill, which would boost funding for the fight against opioid abuse, increase medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), provide an increase to the maximum Pell grants, and continue investments in other critical education programs.  Overall, the bill would provide $164.1 billion in base discretionary funding for the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and related agencies.  

Senator Reed, a member of the Senate Labor-H Subcommittee, backed several key measures in the bill, including a $2 billion increase for NIH medical research to bring NIH’s annual funding to over $36 billion.  This marks the third consecutive year the Senate has included a $2 billion increase for NIH over the previous year, including a $414 million increase for Alzheimer’s research and a $140 million increase for the BRAIN Initiative.  This year’s bill also provides $816 million, a 440% increase over the last two years, for programs to combat opioid abuse at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

A number of initiatives were included in the bill that would directly benefit Rhode Island, including funding for education-related programs and initiatives such as Title I, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Head Start.  The bill also includes increased funding for medical research which, in addition to leading to cures, will benefit the Rhode Island’s hospitals and universities, provide resources to address health issues faced by the elderly community such as Alzheimer’s disease, and increase resources to combat the opioid threat in the state.  

Senator Reed also successfully worked on a bipartisan basis to secure $235 million for the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), a $4 million increase over FY2017.  IMLS supports programs for museums and libraries that encourage innovation, provide life-long learning opportunities, promote cultural and civic engagement, and improve access to a variety of services and information.  The $4 million increase in the IMLS-administered Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grants to States program will help public libraries meet community needs, provide enhanced services through technology, reach underserved populations, and retain librarians.  In FY2016, Rhode Island received just over $1 million through the LSTA Grants to States program and $660,000 in several competitive library and museum grants, including: $530,000 for the Providence Public Library; $25,000 for the Providence Children's Museum; $99,400 for the Preservation Society of Newport County; and $5,000 for the Tomaquag Museum, which was one of ten recipients nationally to be recognized with a 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. 

“Being able to fund initiatives and programs that are so critical to our nation - from strengthening our public schools and libraries to advancing medical research to fighting the growing opioid threat - while at the same time bolstering economic growth is a real challenge,” said Senator Reed.  “This bill is an important step forward, given the tight budgetary constraints, and I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make crucial investments that benefit the health and well-being of the American people, encourage the best education possible for our children, and strengthen the middle class. 

Other highlights of the bill include:

•  The first discretionary increase in the maximum Pell grant in over a decade - a 1.7% increase - from $5,920 to $6,020.  The maximum Pell grant has increased each year with mandatory funding since FY2007.  With the automatic increase in the mandatory add-on expiring after the 2017-18 award year, this discretionary increase ensures the maximum award will continue to increase next school year to help students keep up with rising costs and reduce the need for student loans.

•  Funding to continue Year-Round Pell, a permanent law change included last year.  Year-Round Pell is expected to provide over 900,000 students an additional award of over $1,600 annually to help them complete their program faster, enter or re-enter the workforce sooner, and graduate with less debt.  The bill also includes a provision restoring Pell eligibility for defrauded students and students at schools that have closed.

•  $15.5 billion in Title I funding, a $25 million increase above FY2017.  These funds help schools, particularly those with concentrations of economically disadvantaged students, meet high academic achievement standards.  In FY2017, Rhode Island schools will have received an estimated $53.3 million in Title I funding, serving 36 school districts.

•  $12 billion in funding for programs related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The IDEA is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.  In FY2017 Rhode Island will have received an estimated $49 million in IDEA funding, supporting nearly 20,000 students in Rhode Island’s public schools.

•  $9.3 billion for Head Start, level with FY2017, to help Head Start programs keep up with costs, recruit and retain highly qualified staff, maintain enrollment, and provide high-quality early childhood service for children and families.  Each year, Rhode Island receives nearly $26 million to serve over 2,000 children in Head Start preschool programs and over 600 infants and pregnant mothers in Early Head Start programs.

•  Maintained funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), as well as $15 million for a new SAMHSA opioid prevention program for community prevention.  Rhode Island receives nearly $23 million from SAMHSA for a number of programs to prevent and treat mental health and substance abuse issues, including the opioid crisis.

•  $3.39 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

•  $2.9 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), level with FY2017, for grants to states to support child care for low-income families, and to improve the quality of child care programs.

•  $1.7 billion for Job Corps to help young Americans receive education, job training, and employment assistance.  The bill also $95 million for training programs utilizing the flexible and effective apprenticeship model•  $1.49 billion for Community Health Centers to provide comprehensive, quality health care services to medically underserved communities and vulnerable populations.

•  $953 million to help low-income and first generation college students plan, prepare for, and succeed in college through the federal TRIO programs, and $340 million for GEAR UP, which provide services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them enter and complete college and postgraduate education programs.

•  $1.2 billion for mental health programs, level with FY2017.  The bill rejects the $269 million in cuts to mental health proposed in the budget request.

•  $305 million for Children's Hospitals Graduate Medical Education (CHGME), $5 million more than FY2017.  This funding supports freestanding children’s hospitals’ training of resident physicians, research capabilities and care for vulnerable and underserved children.

•  $284 million for the Veterans Employment and Training (VETS) program to expand employment services to transitioning servicemembers, veterans with disabilities, and their spouses and caregivers.

•  $84.5 million for YouthBuild, which helps young people get a second chance at earning their General Education Development (GED) diploma while learning valuable occupational and life management skills.

•  $1.3 billion for Impact Aid, which provides flexible support to local school districts impacted by the presence of federally-owned land and activities, such as military bases.  The new funding is an $11.5 million increase over FY2017.

•  $596 million for adult education programs, which assist adults in strengthening literacy, raising educational attainment, and improving workplace skills.

Now that the bill has been approved by the Appropriations Committee, it must be voted on by the full U.S. Senate before it can be reconciled with a version making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.