December 01, 2014

Omnibus appropriations bill passes Congress with increased funds for ABA-backed programs

President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion fiscal year 2015 appropriations package Dec. 16 that increases funding for several ABA-supported programs but sets the stage for debate early next year on immigration funding.

H.R. 83 funds most of the government through Sept. 30, 2015, but extends funding only through Feb. 15, 2015, for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes immigration programs. The move was in response to the president’s recent executive action that may grant protection from deportation to up to five million undocumented immigrants, and opponents of the president’s actions will be considering ways that Congress can limit DHS immigration funding and activities through legislation or in the courts.

The appropriations package also continues to prohibit the use of funds for the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States for prosecution in Article III courts or for construction or acquisition of facilities in the United States for the detention or imprisonment of Guantanamo detainees.

Programs of interest to the ABA that will see increased funding this year include:

Federal Judiciary. The judiciary receives $6.7 billion in discretionary appropriations, an increase of $182 million, or 2.8 percent. This amount is essentially equal to the judiciary’s re-estimated funding request for the year.  The legislation also includes provisions extending temporary judgeships in eight district courts. “We are very pleased with the fiscal year 2015 appropriation for the judiciary,” said Judge John Bates, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. “The funding levels are sufficient to enable the courts to operate effectively, he said.

Legal Services Corporation (LSC). A $10 million increase in funding for LSC brings the program’s total to $375 million, which includes $343.15 million for basic field programs and required independent audits; $4.35 million for the Office of Inspector General, $18.5 million for management and grant oversight, $4 million for client self-help and information technology, $4 million for the Pro Bono Innovation Fund, and $1 million for loan repayment assistance. The legislation continues to restrict the use of funds by LSC grantees for participation in abortion-related litigation.

Criminal Justice.  Justice Department funding includes a $65 million increase to $2.3 billion for various state and local grant programs, including: $430 million for violence against women programs, with $42.5 million for legal assistance for victims; $68 million for Second Chance Act programs; $5 million for veterans treatment courts; $252 million for juvenile justice grants and mentoring; $41 million in new funding for addressing the backlog of sexual assault kits; and $68 million for missing and exploited children programs. Also seeing a $62 million increase is the Bureau of Prisons, which will receive $6.9 billion.

Elder Justice. New funding of $4 million supports an Elder Justice Initiative to provide competitive grants to states to test and evaluate innovative approaches to preventing and responding to elder abuse. 

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  The bill provides $3.5 billion – a $434 million increase − for the USPTO, which is the estimated amount of fees to be collected by the office during fiscal year 2015. Also included is a provision to allow the office to use, with congressional approval, any excess fees that are collected.

Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA receives $11.8 billion for administrative expenses for processing disability cases – a $109 million increase.

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The legislation includes $1.5 billion for the SEC, which is $150 million more than fiscal year 2014 funding. The SEC appropriation will be offset by collected fees.

One agency experiencing a decrease in funding is the Internal Revenue Service, which drops by $346 million to $10.9 billion. This includes a $162 million decrease to $4.9 billion for enforcement efforts.

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