Fighting the Funding Cliff

By Ben Corb, Board Member, Coalition for Health Funding

Co-Chair, NDD United

Director of Public Affairs, American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

There are a lot of expectations for the 116th Congress. In the public health and health research communities, many of us are advocating for more funding for programs, projects, and activities at the Department of Health and Human Services and for good reason. In recent years, many of these activities have seen cuts or watched their buying power erode as their funding failed to keep pace with inflation.

However, all of this advocacy will be for naught if Congress does not pass legislation to avoid a steep, $55 billion funding cliff for nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs scheduled to take effect at the end of this fiscal year. Without another bipartisan budget deal to #RaiseTheCaps, it will be all but impossible for the House or Senate to maintain funding for health programs, let alone provide the resources necessary to begin to make up for years of cuts.

NDD United, founded and co-led by the Coalition for Health Funding, has been successful in advocating for two other two-year deals to raise the budget caps, which means that the most extreme funding levels were only allowed to be implemented in one year since the law’s enactment. As a result that year, there were significant reductions in funding for every program, project, and activity across the discretionary landscape. For health, this meant significantly fewer grants for research, fewer patients receiving care, fewer future healthcare providers trained, fewer public health officials monitoring and responding to threats, and much more. (Learn more about the impacts of budget cuts on health here).

 It would be devastating for Congress to allow for the current cap for fiscal year 2020 to take effect. Thus, the Coalition for Health Funding has once again joined 850- national, state, and local organizations from all different sectors to call on Congress to “Raise the Caps.” The letter, with all signatures, is available here.

Last week, House Budget Chair John Yarmuth took the first steps in preventing the enactment of the 2020 cap by introducing the Investing for the People Act, which would raise nondefense discretionary caps for two years. In 2020, it would provide $34 billion over current levels and maintain the parity principle by providing comparable increases to defense and nondefense caps. It also would allow for further adjustments to the caps for the big ticket items including the 2020 Census. Despite the need for relief, however, there are inter and intra party struggles on both sides of the aisle that make the bill’s passage uncertain.

With a divided Congress and growing deficits, the path to #RaiseTheCaps this year is not clear, and advocates must realize that bipartisan budget deals don’t just happen. It will take the advocacy of people and organizations across the nation to again avoid harmful cuts. We hope you will continue to engage with us in both the #RaisetheCaps and #FUNdHealth campaigns to keep the drumbeat going.


We encourage groups to continue to stay engaged with NDD United throughout the year as Congress continues conversations about topline funding by following them on Twitter at @NDDUnited or signing up for the distribution list on