Conferees began negotiations this month on the first fiscal year 2012 “minibus” appropriations package, which combines three of the 12 funding bills required to keep the government running – Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-State, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development.
The negotiators hope to reach agreement between the House and Senate versions of the bill, H.R. 2112, by Nov. 18, the expiration date of the continuing resolution that has kept the government running since Oct. 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. That timetable is particularly important because the package is expected to include provisions to keep the entire government funded through mid-December to allow time to enact more minibus bills.
Programs of interest to the ABA in H.R. 2112 include the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which is currently funded by the continuing resolution at $398.5 million. The Senate version would fund LSC at $369 million, while the House version would cut the program to $300 million.
The ABA has emphasized to Congress that those benefiting from LSC-funded programs are among the most vulnerable Americans, including veterans returning from combat and those coping with the after-effects of natural disasters.
Another program strongly supported by the ABA is the Second Chance Act, which would receive $70 million in the House version and no funding in the Senate version. In an Oct. 6 letter to House and Senate appropriators, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman called the act, which supports programs to assist prisoners to successfully reenter their communities, a “common sense, evidence-based approach to reducing crime and improving public safety.”
He also urged support for continued funding for juvenile justice programs, explaining that criminologists estimate that steering just one high-risk youth away from a life of crime saves society $3 million to $6 million in reduced victim costs and criminal justice expenses.
Susman emphasized the ABA’s view that the Senate-approved recommendation for building more prisons would not provide a long-term solution to prison overcrowding and staff shortages. Instead, he urged Congress to adopt specific practical, cost-saving measures.