What you need to know about funding the federal government

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By Coleman Garrison

Last week, Congress and President Trump came to an agreement on how to fund the federal government into Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, which starts October 1: a continuing resolution (CR) through December 8, 2017. Once the CR ends, Congress will once again have to figure out what to do to prevent a government shutdown.

You may be wondering how a government shutdown can affect conservation districts, or even what “continuing resolution” means. 

In the most basic terms: funding the federal government means that USDA Service Centers will continue to keep their doors open, allowing conservation districts that are housed within these buildings to continue doing their work. Annual appropriations bills also allocate funding to programs like Conservation Technical Assistance and EPA’s Section 319 grants, and in some cases, although NACD advocates against it, can limit funds for Farm Bill programs.

The CR passed last week will keep funding for federal programs at the levels appropriated in the current fiscal year – FY 2017 – up until a new deadline – December 8. Ideally, each chamber of Congress would have individually passed all 12 of the appropriations bills required to fund the federal government on their own by now, and have sent each of them to the president to be signed into law. However, because “regular order” has not happened in recent history, individual funding bills and CRs are passed to keep the federal government operational.

The House of Representatives is currently in the process of passing their eight remaining appropriations bills as one large package, and will send it and the other four they’ve previously passed to the Senate for consideration and later negotiation. This combination of bills with unique, new funding levels is known as an Omnibus. Congress sometimes passes all 12 bills together or can pass smaller packages of three to four appropriations bills.

All these different options, including an option known as a CRomnibus, which includes some new spending levels and some extended levels from the previous year, give Congress a wide array of options to continue federal funding. No one wants the federal government to shut down, and while Congress sometimes runs right up against the deadline, an actual shutdown of the federal government is rare, only happening once in the last 20 years in 2013.

Certainly each party sensationalizes the potential of a government shutdown to try to force the other side to cave, but the reality is Congress works best against a deadline, and at the end of the day, almost always averts a shutdown. As this process moves forward, NACD continues to meet with congressional appropriators to advocate for the programs important to conservation districts and will continue to keep our members informed of future actions.

To contact Coleman Garrison, NACD’s director of government affairs, send him an email at coleman-garrison@nacdnet.org.

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