How Congress Funds the Government: What You Should Know About Appropriations

April 9, 2024

You might have heard the buzz that Congress just passed a new bill funding the government that includes big wins for child care. But are you familiar with the legislative processes that got us here? Here’s what you should know about the appropriations process:

The President’s budget functions as a starting point for Congress and is one of the most important policies a president will craft each year. The United States Government Accountability Office defines the President’s budget as follows:

“The President’s budget is the Administration’s proposed plan for managing funds, setting levels of spending, and financing the spending of the federal government. It is not only the President’s principal policy statement but is also the starting point for congressional budgetary actions.” (2005).

The type of bills Congress creates to transform this budget into law is called an appropriations bill. These are typically divided into twelve bills, one for each subcommittee, including the one on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Sometimes, instead of twelve separate bills, they also come in the form of an “omnibus bill”—or a massive, all-encompassing bill package that accounts for spending across multiple agencies. If Congress does not pass a law(s) to fund the government for the entire next fiscal year by September 30, they will often pass a continuing resolution. This type of law is used to provide short-term funding while Congress negotiates on the larger appropriations bill.

The process for passing the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2024 serves as an example of this type of cycle. It was an unusually drawn-out journey: after multiple continuing resolutions, Congress passed the final 2024 bill in the early morning hours of Saturday, March 23rd, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown nearly six months after the original deadline for the bill. Negotiations were complicated by deals made to cap federal spending (Kogan & Ross, 2024), worrying advocates that the bill package could include major cuts to vital child care programs and systems.

Fortunately, that was not the case. The child care sector received a $1 billion increase in funding. And while that’s a worthy of celebration, we must continue to advocate so that cuts to these critical programs are not a consideration.

Thank your legislators for protecting child care and continue advocating here.


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