Why the Federal Budget Matters to the LGBTQ Movement


As mentioned throughout Intersecting Injustice: A National Call to Action Addressing LGBTQ Poverty and Economic Justice for All, LGBTQ people experience higher rates of poverty than do their non-LGBTQ counterparts, and they have higher reliance on federal anti-poverty programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, or cash assistance).The data referenced in the report highlight the importance of robust funding for the social safety net – the collection of federal anti-poverty programs designed to catch people when they fall on hard times. Without these programs, millions of LGBTQ people will struggle to feed themselves and their families, pay rent, and access basic medical care. Additionally, every year federal money makes up a significant portion of state budgets, especially for southern states. Consequently, if the federal government cuts spending, it puts pressure on state and local governments to make up the lost money by raising taxes or cutting programs or services. It is therefore crucial that LGBTQ advocates get involved in the federal budget process and demand adequate funding for the social safety net.

To get involved in the federal budget process, it is important to understand how it works. In this blog post, I will provide an overview of how the federal budget allocates funding for the anti-poverty programs that make up the social safety net.


How is the Social Safety Net Funded?

The federal government funds anti-poverty programs under two major categories of the federal budget – mandatory spending and discretionary spending.

Mandatory spending makes up the largest portion of the federal budget, and as the name implies, it funds programs – including Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, SNAP, unemployment insurance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – that are mandated by law. Mandatory spending programs are known as  entitlement programs because the government guarantees individuals and families access to them as long as they qualify under existing eligibility requirements. Unlike other anti-poverty programs, Congress does not have the authority to dictate the funding levels of entitlement programs. However, Congress can change the eligibility requirements for them, which would either increase or decrease the federal budget due to a change in number of people who qualify

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Discretionary spending includes defense (i.e., the military) as well as many domestic and international programs. There are several anti-poverty programs funded through non-defense discretionary funds, including: Meals on Wheels; the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8); job training programs; the National School Lunch Program (NSLP); the School Breakfast Program (SBP); the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); community health centers; the Legal Services Corporation (LSC, or legal aid); federal student aid programs (such as Pell Grants and Perkins Loans); and cell phone subsidies. These programs are considered discretionary spending because Congress has the authority to determine their annual funding levels through the appropriations process. Through the appropriations process each year, Congress can increase, decrease, or eliminate the funding for any program funded through discretionary funds. The White House also has a key role in the appropriations process, both initiating and finalizing all spending decisions. At the beginning of the process, the President submits a budget request to Congress (with requested spending levels for all discretionary programs), and once Congress passes each appropriations bill, the President can veto it or sign it into law.


Getting Involved in the Federal Budget Process

Each year, conservative lawmakers call for drastic cuts to anti-poverty programs funded through discretionary spending. They also threaten to make structural changes to entitlement programs that would significantly diminish the reach of these fundamental programs. For example, conservatives are currently seeking to expand or add work requirements for social safety net programs, including housing, food assistance, and healthcare, even though these proposals do not adequately address the structural reasons why people cannot find work (discrimination, education, transportation, etc.). The only way to stop these efforts and ensure that the social safety net remains intact is through outreach to Members of Congress.

Throughout the appropriations process, Members of Congress meet with their constituents and other stakeholders to discuss and determine federal budget spending priorities. Phone calls to, meetings with, and letters to Members’ offices in support of anti-poverty programs play a key role in ensuring their survival. To ensure that LGBTQ people can continue to rely on these vital programs, LGBTQ advocates must get involved in the federal budget process and lobby lawmakers to support robust funding for the social safety net.

To keep up with current news on the federal budget and important programs for low-income people, visit the Coalition on Human Needs webpage, and join the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ The Federal Scoop newsletter by emailing scoop@cbpp.org.


Further Reading

Strengthening America’s Values and Economy for All Statement of Principles (Coalition on Human Needs)

Written By:

Tyrone Hanley,
National Center for Lesbian Rights Policy Counsel