Despite Republican plans to dismantle scores of social programs, the Clinton administration is considering raising spending on Head Start, drug-abuse treatment and health care for Americans with AIDS.
Although final decisions about the 1996 budget have yet to be made, documents obtained by The Associated Press show the administration is also leaning toward spending increases to speed up decisions on claims for disability benefits from ill and injured Americans.At the same time, the White House wants to pare the work force at the Social Security Administration, which is already struggling to answer its phones, investigate fraud and process those requests for disability benefits.
Spokesmen for the Department of Health and Human Services declined comment, saying everything is subject to change between now and February, when the administration sends its budget request to the Republican-controlled Congress.
But details of the Office of Management and Budget's so-called budget pass-back to HHS show that despite the November elections that gave Republicans control of the House and Senate, spending for the sprawling department's non-entitlement programs would be basically frozen next year.
The budget, according to the documents, was guided by OMB's decision to ensure growth in "investment areas" and to hold all other areas steady.
Republicans who will control the new Congress are promising to reform the nation's welfare system by consolidating numerous social programs and returning the money - and the responsibility for the poor - back to the states.
The White House, however, wants to continue to expand the cornerstone of the 1960s War on Poverty, Head Start, which is a comprehensive early childhood development program, by $400 million in 1996.
HHS had sought $600 million for Head Start. Last year, President Clinton asked Congress to raise spending on the program by $700 million but got $210 million.
With a budget of $3.5 billion this year, Head Start provides education and health services to 745,000 low-income children in thousands of classrooms nationwide. Republican lawmakers who will oversee the program have questioned the uneven quality of local centers and promise tougher scrutiny.
Helen Blank, director of child care and development at the Children's Defense Fund, said that if Congress wants to reform welfare by requiring single mothers to work, expanding Head Start is essential.
"Head Start has been a lifeline to mothers," she said. "It's given them the courage and support they need to move off welfare. Over 30 percent of Head Start employees are parents of current or former students."
The Clinton administration will also seek $91 million more next year on community programs that provide medical and social services to people with AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The president, who has already boosted spending on these Ryan White Act programs by 82 percent, intends to seek an increase to $724 million for fiscal 1996. That is $51 million more than HHS requested.
Clinton promised during his 1992 campaign to fully fund the Ryan White Act, which provides direct medical and social services to people living with HIV or full-blown AIDS.
HHS had also sought an increase of $253 million in spending for substance abuse treatment, but the White House budget office agreed to raise the amount by $100 million.
Spending on treatment is seen as critical because thousands of low-income drug addicts and alcoholics who collect federal disability benefits from Social Security will soon be under a three-year time limit on cash assistance.