October 24, 2023 / Riley Cagle

The Looming Government Shutdown: What You Need to Know About Appropriations

Updated Nov. 2, 2023

It's appropriations season again, and as usual, there is no shortage of exciting and dynamic news coming out every day. Will there be a government shutdown? Will Congress reach a deal before the Nov. 17 deadline? What is getting cut, and what is getting boosted?

You might also be asking yourself: What is appropriations season? How does it work?

Appropriations season is the time of year when the federal government decides how much money it is willing to spend on departments, programs, and agencies for the next fiscal year. The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. The House of Representatives and the Senate each create their own appropriations proposals for different departments and agencies through 12 separate appropriations bills. These bills are then passed through their respective chambers, and then the leaders of each chamber meet to create a compromise between their two proposals. This compromise bill is then voted on by both chambers and sent to the president for approval.

If Congress can't agree on an appropriations deal by Sept. 30, the government shuts down unless a continuing resolution is passed that temporarily extends funding at current levels. When the government shuts down, most government employees can't work or get paid until appropriations legislation is enacted. Federal employees who provide "essential services" continue to work during a shutdown, but they don't get paid. Shutdowns make it exceedingly difficult for professionals who work with the government, as we can't connect with most federal partners during this time. Congress has delayed a shutdown by passing a 45-day continuing resolution that funds the government at current levels through Nov. 17, allowing more time for negotiations.

Unfortunately, a shutdown is likely. The House and Senate are extremely far apart in their budget proposals, with the House calling for steep cuts and the Senate proposing smaller cuts or flat funding. In addition, the House has just elected a new Speaker, and spending negotiations are just now resuming under new leadership with approximately two weeks until the deadline for a deal. The depth of the disagreement between the two chambers will make reaching an agreement by the deadline very difficult.

Specifically, the House is proposing deep cuts to agencies that are important for worker health and safety. The House would cut the Department of Labor's budget by 29 percent, the NIOSH budget by 32 percent, the EPA budget by 39 percent, and the OSHA budget by 16 percent. By contrast, the Senate proposals make either minor cuts or propose flat funding.

Cuts as large as the House is proposing could seriously disrupt the progress we've made with these agencies. It would likely lead to staffing cuts, stalled research projects, and less enforcement of existing worker health and safety regulations.

This is a critical moment for the future of worker health and safety protections nationwide. I encourage you to make your voice heard by using AIHA's Grassroots Advocacy Center to find your representatives and contact them. Let them know you oppose the deep cuts proposed by the House, which would be detrimental to the oversight and research work done by NIOSH, EPA, OSHA, and more. Funding for these agencies should avoid the drastic reductions suggested.

Though the disagreements in Congress make the path forward unclear, there is still time before Nov. 17 for lawmakers to reach a compromise. But they need to hear from people like you that worker health and safety is worth protecting in the federal budget. By contacting your representatives and raising your voice, you can make a real difference for the health and safety of America's workers during this key appropriations season. Please consider taking a few minutes to call or write your members of Congress and make your perspective known. You can find your representatives by using AIHA's Grassroots Advocacy Center. Together, we can work to avoid dangerous cuts to essential agencies and build a safer, healthier workforce.

Editor's note: This post was updated on Nov. 2, 2023, to reflect changes in the House leadership and make minor clarifications about the appropriations process.

Riley Cagle

Riley Cagle is AIHA’s advocacy associate.


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