Public Policy Update

Good news and bad for psychology in the Administration's budget plan.

President Bush's fiscal year (FY) 2003 budget, submitted to Congress on Feb. 4, reflects the Administration's three key spending priorities: winning the war against terrorism, protecting the nation at home and boosting the economy. The budget's call for increased funding for defense and biomedical research would benefit psychological science. But cuts in domestic programs would limit opportunities for psychological services and the education and training of psychologists.

The following is a brief analysis of some of the budget items of particular interest to APA members.

Addressing the needs of the uninsured

The silver lining in President Bush's budget request is the Administration's commitment to strengthen and expand access to health-care services for the uninsured and the underinsured. The number of uninsured Americans now exceeds 41 million. For the second year in a row, the administration's budget increases funding for the nation's network of health centers, which provide health care for the uninsured and underinsured. In the FY 2003 budget, the Health Centers program would receive an 8.5 percent boost of $114 million over FY 2002 for a total of $1.5 billion.

The President's budget also proposes tax credits of $3,000 for families and $1,000 for individuals for the purchase of health insurance. The tax credit is for individuals and families who are neither covered by an employee plan nor enrolled in public programs, and who may have the most difficulty finding affordable health coverage. Yet, the low-cost, low-coverage plans that may be available typically require individuals to pay high deductibles and do not provide comprehensive coverage. Uninsured individuals are thus compelled to spend more out of pocket for less coverage than offered in employer plans.

Narrowing the substance abuse treatment gap

President Bush has requested $126 million for the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment to reach out to the 3.9 million drug users in the United States (as indicated by national survey data) who do not receive treatment. However, this increase comes at the expense of the other two centers comprising the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)--more specifically, a $45 million cut for the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and a mere $212,000 increase for the Center for Mental Health Services. Overall, the $3.2 billion slated for SAMHSA in the President's FY 2003 budget reflects just a 1.8 percent increase of $55 million over the FY 2002 level.

Assistance for children in foster care

While most federal children's programs received level funding under the proposed FY 2003 budget, the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program received an increase of $130 million for a total of $505 million. Services funded through this program help to prevent child abuse and neglect, return children safely from foster care to their families, and help children find and adjust to permanent adoptive homes. Almost half of this increase will be used to fund education and training vouchers for young people who are leaving foster care so that they can pursue vocational training or higher education.

Education programs

The President's budget marks the smallest increase for the Department of Education in more than six years. Most of the increases are for the President's signature programs that enjoy broad bipartisan political support, such as the Reading First initiative (a $100 million increase to $1 billion), the Disadvantaged Education Program (a $1 billion increase in the Title I program to $11.4 billion) and the Special Education program (a $1 billion increase to $8.5 billion).

The Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) is slated for a $47 million increase, highlighting the priority placed on education research. The budget calls for $20 million for reading comprehension research and $15 million for randomized trials of preschool curricula. OERI will also contribute $20 million, as it is in FY 2002, for the Interagency Education Research Initiative, a collaborative effort to build a knowledge base for improving educational practice by fostering innovative research on basic learning, teaching, and organizational mechanisms and developing sustainable and scalable interventions in reading, mathematics and science education.

To offset some of these proposed spending increases, the President's budget seeks savings from small congressional "pet" programs, which, the Administration argues, do not meet the test of proven effectiveness. Of particular concern to APA members, the budget blueprint proposes level funding for the Federal Work Study Program at $1 billion and eliminates funding for both the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling program (currently funded at $32.5 million) and the Gifted and Talented Education program (currently funded at $11.3 million).

Health professions education

Only $6 billion is proposed for the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) programs, a net decrease of $394 million. One of the areas hardest hit at HRSA was the Bureau of Health Professions with a 72 percent reduction, leaving only a $110 million budget. Yet, the President proposed $192 million, a 29.9 percent increase in funding, for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) to ensure an adequate supply of health professionals. The NHSC provides scholarships and loan repayment to health-care professionals, including psychologists, who work in underserved areas. 

Doubling the NIH budget

The President's budget includes the final installment in the doubling of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget over its 1998 funding level--a $3.9 billion increase. Consequently, several institutes are now in the "Billion Dollar Club."

More specifically, the budget proposes a 57 percent increase for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, largely for vaccine research/production to counter bioterrorism. Despite these remarkable increases, the doubling overall will not reflect an even distribution of wealth across institutes, and will likely cause some discontent among public health advocates and congressional champions of various NIH health initiatives.

For a summary of funding by Institutes and Centers, see www.nih.gov/news/budgetfy2003/ 2003NIHpresbudget.htm.

New defense research

Although the Department of Defense will receive its second largest increase ever for research and development ($5.4 billion), the Science and Technology account, which includes funding for all basic and applied research, as well as advanced technology development, would suffer a 2 percent decrease. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, however, will see a 19.2 percent increase to a total of $2.7 billion, presenting behavioral scientists with new opportunities for research support.

Mixed outcome for the NSF

The 5 percent overall increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF) belies better, but in some cases worse, news for research portfolios of interest to psychologists.

Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences finally leads the NSF Directorate pack with a 15.9 percent increase, but Biological Sciences (which houses behavioral neuroscience programs) is proposed to be cut by 2.7 percent. A new NSF-wide program creating large, multidisciplinary Science of Learning Centers, which will receive $20 million in startup funds in FY 2003, should attract significant attention from behavioral researchers. Ongoing initiatives, including Information Technology Research and the Math and Science Partnerships, which are slated for 9.9 percent and 25 percent increases, respectively, should continue to translate into support for behavioral research beyond the core disciplinary programs.

Make a difference

The President's budget is only a proposal, and nothing will be finalized until the appropriations bills (normally 13 in all) and any necessary budget reconciliation bills are passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the President. This process is supposed to be completed by Oct. 1, but may take longer in an election year.

Your support of federal programs of importance to psychology can make a difference in legislators' funding decisions. Become an advocate for psychology by visiting www.apa.org/ppo/grassroots/getinv.html.