After reviewing the Obama administration’s Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) budget, B’nai B’rith International has mixed reactions to areas affecting seniors and the low-income Americans, as well as matters of international policy—both spheres in which B’nai B’rith is extremely active.
B’nai B’rith is pleased the administration is calling for a “clean reallocation” of funds within the payroll tax, allowing the disability and retirement benefits to be on equal and secure footing until 2033 and avoiding a disability shortfall in 2016. Reallocations among parts of the Social Security program are not uncommon and have occurred 11 times in the past.
B’nai B’rith is also satisfied to see that the administration sought to undo many of the sequester cuts in domestic discretionary programs. The administration was able to do so without gutting such mandatory programs as Social Security and Medicare that affect the elderly. Other promising ideas gleaned from the FY16 budget include allowing the U.S. Department or Health and Human Services to negotiate prices on cutting edge drugs like “biologics” for Medicare beneficiaries and reducing out of pocket prescription spending.
We remain quite concerned, however, about provisions appearing again in this year’s budget that would shift more costs, including health costs, to older adults and the disabled. Among these worrisome cost-shifting measures are ill-conceived penalties for disability beneficiaries who also receive unemployment insurance, changes to the Medicare’s premium structure that increase costs for many beneficiaries and a proposal that would penalize people who buy certain types of supplemental Medicare coverage.
While we continue to work toward fully restoring the Department of Housing and Urban Development program that has funded the construction of thousands of rental apartments for low-income elders, we are pleased to see the administration’s budget would continue to fund operating and service coordination expenses for existing buildings across the country. B’nai B’rith is the largest national Jewish sponsor of low-income housing for seniors in the United States.
In the international policy realm, the administration’s $54.8 billion foreign aid budget request for FY16 is a welcome reversal of past cuts to international affairs. However, the total request level represents only a modest increase at a time when many important U.S. programs overseas are already significantly underfunded. Additionally, it is unfortunate that humanitarian assistance is down 13 percent at a time when conflicts are on the rise and victims of natural disasters desperately need help.
B’nai B’rith does welcome the administration’s call for a 29.2 percent increase in the Economic Support Fund that will bolster strategic economic assistance to address global crises and countries in conflict, including Ukraine and its neighbors; and combating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Aid to Israel, at $3.1 billion, will remain the same as in Fiscal Year 2014 and Fiscal Year 2015, continuing U.S. support for the only democracy in the Middle East.
B’nai B’rith calls on Congress to fund at least the full amount of the administration’s international affairs budget request.