Budget deal includes expanded funding for special education, veterans benefits

President Obama
President Obama

While most advocates are still combing through the details of the new, massive 2016 omnibus budget, signed by President Obama on December 18, multiple provisions have been highlighted that boost programs of significant importance for people with disabilities.

As reported by U.S. News and World Report, education funding came out as one of the clear winners in the negotiations. After years of cutbacks due to the sequestration, special education funding will receive a $415 million increase, for an overall allocation of $11.9 billion for the 2016-17 school year.

The move caps a busy session for education in Congress, which one week prior passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, the first major rewrite of federal education law in nearly 15 years since the passage of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act.

The Department of Veterans Affairs will receive an additional $406 million to help further reduce the backlog for people applying, for the first time, for veterans disability benefits, according to the Military Times. The backlog, a key priority for the VA, has been cut from 612,000 people in spring 2013 to 78,000 last month.

Congress also renewed the Zadroga Act, a special health care and compensation program for firefighters, construction workers, cleanup workers and other individuals who participated in the clean-up after the September 11, 2011 attacks. The previously temporary program, which had expired in September, is now a permanent program, with funding allocated to cover the program through 2090.

The National Alliance for Mental Illness applauded the bill’s investments in several major mental health programs.

“This bill clearly demonstrates recognition by the Committee that wise investments in mental health services and research benefit people with mental illness, families, and the nation as a whole,” NAMI Executive Director Mary Giliberti said in a news release. “We are particularly grateful for the agreement’s increased funding for early intervention in the treatment of psychosis, funding for research at the National Institute for Mental Health, and investments in vital services and supports that can prevent negative consequences such as homelessness and incarceration.”

The $1.1 trillion budget deal, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 336-14 and the Senate 65-34, will fund the federal government until September 2016.

A summary of the budget’s major spending and tax initiatives, from the Washington Post, can be read here.