Why the THUD Appropriations Bill Matters for Adult Education

Last week, I mentioned the big gap between the House and Senate Labor-HHS appropriations bills—the congressional spending bills that include, among other things, funding for Title II of the Workforce Investment Act, the largest source of federal funding for adult literacy and adult and family education programs. As I noted in an update to that post, the House Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee postponed (perhaps forever) the markup of their bill last week, and so we never got a chance to see officially what kind of cuts they were proposing in order to stay under the budget cap they were assigned.

This week the news is all about another appropriations bill, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill, which did make it out of committee, but was pulled from floor consideration yesterday. Today, a Senate version of the bill failed to clear a filibuster.

For adult education advocates, the THUD bill is also worth paying attention to. As I often point out, there are several other important sources of federal funding for adult education besides WIA, and the THUD bill includes funding for one of them—the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

CDBG funds are essentially a form of federal aid to cities. It is consequently very popular among mayors and many members of Congress representing urban areas. Managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), CDBG funding “provides communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs”—and that can include education and training programs.

I learned when I was working at ProLiteracy that CDBG funds support quite a few urban community-based adult education programs (here’s one example), although it’s hard to figure out exactly how much CDBG money ultimately ends up in the hands of adult education programs because the funding is typically subgranted to programs via another local government entity, and I don’t know of a source that compiles all of the CBOs and other entities that receive subgrants that are funded via CDBG dollars.

But it’s a sure bet that some adult education programs have already taken a hit due to the cuts to CDBG funding that have already occurred due to sequestration (the program is now down to $3 billion). If the additional cuts proposed for FY 2014 in the House bill took effect, the hit on adult education programs that receive CDBG funds would likely be severe: according to Brad Plummer of the Washington Post, the House THUD bill was going to cut the program all the way down to $1.6 billion.

Interestingly, according to Plummer, “this was the cut that doomed the bill, repelling Democrats and some moderate Republicans.”

The THUD debacle thus serves as a reminder to adult education advocates that: (a) there is a very popular federal program outside of WIA that funds a substantial number of community-based adult education programs; and (b) the funding for that program has been cut substantially over the last several years (Plummer notes that states have lost $2.5 billion in CDBG funding since 2010), and remains in a volatile state.