Most Expensive Bill of the Week
The Bill: H.R. 4054, the Promoting National Service and Reducing Unemployment Act
Cost Per Year: $1.6 billion ($7.9 billion over five years)
Earlier this month, the latest employment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics were released, and the findings were either encouraging or depressing, depending on who you talked to. On the bright side, the economy added 175,000 jobs in February, which was slightly more than expected (although still below average). And after revisions to previous estimates, there were more jobs added in January than originally expected.
However, even as more jobs were added, the overall unemployment rate ticked slightly upward to 6.7%, and labor force participation rates were unchanged. The Wall Street Journal’s Edward Lazear pointed out that even among those who are working, the average workweek is getting shorter, shrinking from 34.5 hours in September, 2013 down to 34.2 hours in February, 2014. But the recession has had a pronounced effect on younger Americans: a new study from the Brookings Institution shows the labor market for teens and young adults has plummeted since 2000.
Focusing on that particular demographic, District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) introduced H.R. 4054 to boost economic growth and create more jobs for young people. The Promoting National Service and Reducing Unemployment Act would authorize $7.9 billion in order to boost AmeriCorps State and National program enrollment from its current level of about 78,000 to 500,000.
The AmeriCorps program was founded in 1994 and utilizes full- or part-time “volunteers” (officially known as “members”) across the nation to complete various community service projects. Full-time members are eligible to receive a stipend in addition to health insurance, child care services, and, after the completion of a 12-month service period, educational assistance. The program is administered largely by a network of local and national community service organizations that receive funding from the federal government in order to recruit and place applicants. Service projects range from education and public safety initiatives to environmental work.
Upon introducing the bill, Congresswoman Holmes stated, “By expanding the [AmeriCorps] program, we would reduce the number of unemployed young people, provide them with the work skills and experience they would not get while unemployed, and help cash-strapped states and local governments provide services that they would otherwise have to cut."
The text of the legislation authorizes and appropriates $7.9 billion for current Fiscal Year, however NTUF assumes the outlays would be spread over five years. Those funds would be used for operational and administrative expenses associated with expanding the AmeriCorps program. There are no offsets to the new spending included in the bill, thus it would in addition to current spending.
According to the Office of Management and Budget, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) -- which oversees the AmeriCorps program -- had a budget of $734 million in Fiscal Year 2013. The total amounts provided in Rep. Norton's bill represent an amount nearly 11 times higher than the CNCS’s FY 2013 spending level.
The Bottom Line: The Promoting National Service and Reducing Unemployment Act would significantly expand the AmeriCorps community service program, with the specific goal of recruiting more young people to the program. It would cost $7.9 billion over five years.
To learn more or discuss this bill visit WashingtonWatch.com.
Least Expensive Bill of the Week
The Bill: H.R. 3277, a bill to prohibit United States voluntary contributions to the regular budget of the United Nations or any United Nations agency
Savings Per Year: $357 million (first-year savings)
Though the United Nations’ (UN) budgetary process is still marred in waste and lacks transparency (as NTUF staff have found in the past), at least the federal budget more readily lists the amount of money that American taxpayers are contributing to the international organization. In total, the UN’s 2014-2015 regular budget calls for $5.5 billion, an increase of $348 million from the previous two-year budget. As of 2012, the UN employed 10,336 people around the world.
The UN has two primary sources of funding: assessed and voluntary contributions. Each UN member country is assessed a contribution level based on the size of its economy relative to all other members. For example, the United States remains the largest economy in the world and is assessed to pay 22 percent of the total UN operating budget, which translates to $621 million for FY 2014. The UN relies on such funds to pay for its operations, personnel, and regular facility maintenance. Countries are also similarly assessed to fund the UN’s peacekeeping operations, but poorer members get a larger discount. Currently, 16 major missions are in effect on four continents, though US forces are not participating in every action. In FY 2014, US taxpayers will pay $1.7 billion for troops, support, coordination, and war crimes tribunals for military personnel wearing the UN’s blue helmets.
Countries can also make voluntary contributions at their own discretion to further support UN organizations and programs. In 2011, the UN reported that it received $39.4 billion in revenues, about 60 percent of which, or $23.7 billion, was from voluntary contributions.
Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) introduced H.R. 3277 to cut off any future voluntary payments from the US government to the United Nations. The elimination of UN funding would result in a first-year savings of at least $357 million. The President’s newly released budget for FY 2015 requests $357 million in outlays for UN-affiliated organizations in additional to the assessed payments (see page 873 of the Budget Appendix), a decrease from a total of $386 million this year. Further details are provided in the USAID’s budget justification, including:
- $116.6 million for the UN Children’s Fund;
- $62.2 million for the UN Development Fund;
- $35.3 million for the UN Population Fund; and
- $7.5 million for the UN Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.
In addition, the Administration requests $115 million for voluntary peacekeeping funding in Somalia pursuant to a mission approved by the United Nations Security Council. It is unclear whether this funding would be prohibited by the legislation.
The Bottom Line: H.R. 3277 would eliminate voluntary financial contributions from the United States to the United Nations at least a one-year savings of $357 million.
To learn more or discuss this bill visit WashingtonWatch.com.
The Bill: H.R. 4084, the Community Gardening and Nutrition Act of 2014
Cost Per Year: $4 million (first-year cost)
In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson famously declared war on poverty, promising a concerted legislative and administrative effort to help lower-income Americans.
Fifty years later, issues of income inequality and entitlement funding remain central points of focus among politicians in Washington D.C., and the “war on poverty” continues on. The House Budget Committee recently compiled a report that counts 92 federal programs designed specifically to help low-income Americans. According to the Committee, those same programs spent a combined $799 billion in 2012.
One of the programs established early on in the “war on poverty” was known as the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program. VISTA represented a nation-wide effort to connect the program’s community service "members" to projects in need of additional workers. In 1994 VISTA was combined with the AmeriCorps program (outlined in this week’s Most Expensive bill) within the Corporation for National and Community Service, and functions in much the same way: members are recruited and placed on various community service projects for as much as a year, earning a stipend for full-time work and in certain instances educational and healthcare benefits, as well. Any citizen or lawful resident over the age of 18 can apply to the program. AmeriCorps VISTA “volunteers” generally do not provide direct services such as tutoring:
Instead, they focus their efforts on building the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of organizations that fight illiteracy, improve health services, foster economic develop, and otherwise assist low-income communities.
AmeriCorps VISTA expects to spend about $95 million in FY 2014 and serve about 6,500 “volunteers."
Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL) would expand the VISTA program to include a new community gardening initiative. H.R. 4084 would authorize federal funding for the creation of a pilot program designed to convert vacant lots into community gardens, recruit local residents to care for them, and teach “basic nutrition and self-reliance through community gardening programs.” The legislation stipulates that the new program shall support at least 40 such projects.
In a statement on the House floor, Rep. Hastings said “I can think of no better way to mark the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty than to rededicate ourselves to the principle of improving people's lives. We can do this by increasing access to healthy foods and fighting health crises like the obesity epidemic.” He also cited the importance of nutrition and outdoor recreation in reducing the nation’s health care costs.
H.R. 4084 would increase spending by $4 million to execute the program and would require AmeriCorps Vista to report to Congress on the programs results and any recommendations for its continuation within 90 days after the program ends.
The Bottom Line: The Community Gardening and Nutrition Act would authorize $4 million to establish local gardening programs as part of the anti-poverty initiative known as AmeriCorps.
To learn more or discuss this bill visit WashingtonWatch.com.
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