The House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees have begun hearings on recommendations for funding the federal government in fiscal year 2015, including a $3.9 trillion budget proposed by President Obama.
The president’s budget, submitted to Congress March 4, is in line with the budget agreement approved by Congress last year and includes $1.014 trillion in discretionary funding. The president calls for an end to sequestration starting in 2016 and includes a supplemental budget request called Opportunity, Growth and Security that would provide $56 billion in additional domestic and defense spending derived from alternative spending cuts and tax increases.
Portions of the budget proposal of special interest to the ABA include additional discretionary funding in the Justice Department’s (DOJ) $27.4 billion budget proposal for the “Smart on Crime” initiative, which was launched in August 2013. The additional appropriation, a $122 million increase to $173 million, would fund targeted criminal justice efforts to reduce the prison population and initiatives supporting state and local reentry programs for those being released from prison. Also part of the DOJ proposal is $1.1 billion for initiatives to address gun violence, including $13 million to improve the criminal background check system for gun purchasers and $75 million for school security pilot programs.
The president proposes an increase to $440 million for the Legal Services Corporation, which is currently funded at $365 million. That amount includes $4.9 million for the new Pro Bono Innovation Fund, a competitive grant program established this year to support new and innovative projects promoting and enhancing pro bono initiatives throughout the country. The president is seeking $1 million for the student loan repayment assistance for civil legal services lawyers.
For the federal judiciary, the president requests $6.7 billion in discretionary funding. This would be an increase over the current discretionary amount of $6.516 million. Under the proposal, the Defender Services Program, which provides compensation to court-appointed attorneys representing indigent defenses in federal criminal cases, would receive an increase of $8.8 million to $1.053 billion.
The proposed budget also calls for comprehensive immigration reform and expresses support for S. 744, the immigration legislation passed by the Senate last June.
Also a priority in the budget is funding to improve the Veterans Claims Intake Program at the Department of Veterans Affairs in an effort to improve the processing of claims and eliminate the current backlog of pending claims. The budget would provide $138.7 million for this program and also includes more than $7 billion for treatment of veterans suffering from mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder.