WASHINGTON (AP) — Just $25 million of President Barack Obama's $3.7 billion request to deal with a wave of unaccompanied Central American children on the southern border might be spent before the budget year ends Sept. 30, a new study released Monday says.
The Congressional Budget Office analysis assumes Obama's request for handling the border crisis won't be enacted until mid- to late-September. Lawmakers are struggling to address the issue before leaving Washington for their August recess but appear unlikely to succeed.
The study says the $25 million would be spent immediately by the Department of health and Human services to help the agency pay costs associated with the care of unaccompanied immigrant children and placing them with family members or other caretakers.
"This indicates clearly that the agencies are not in dire need of supplemental funding from this Congress," said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, top Republican on the Budget Committee. "It means we ought to slow down."
A split between Democrats and Republicans over changing a 2008 law that guarantees unaccompanied immigrants from countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador a hearing before an immigration judge is largely responsible for the impasse.
Republicans had already said they would cut back Obama's request sharply, citing the inability of the government to spend it so quickly. They also say the problem can be handled through the regular budget process.
But it's unlikely that any of the 12 annual spending bills — certainly not the controversial HHS funding bill — will be enacted before December. A stopgap measure in September could provide a chance for a temporary influx of funding to cope with the surge in children fleeing violent drug gangs in their home countries. Many of the children face great danger in making the trip and surrender to authorities immediately upon reaching the U.S.
HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell acknowledged in a congressional hearing earlier this month that "some of the funding ... would be funding that would be paid out in '15."
Conservatives seized on the news.
"The recent debate surrounding emergency funding was an effort by the President to take advantage of a crisis he created," said Heritage Action chief Michael Needham. "The question is not what resources President Obama needs, but whether he will take concrete steps to reverse his anti-enforcement policies."
Obama also requested $615 million for fighting western wildfires; CBO says none of that money would be spent through September.