A $1.2 trillion deal to fund the federal government includes more money for special education and disability employment, but many other programs benefiting people with disabilities were not as lucky.

The funding package signed by President Joe Biden late last month comes about halfway through the federal fiscal year after Congress spent months leaning on a series of stopgap measures to keep government programs operating. The measure funds the government through September.

Notably, the spending plan features $14.2 billion in funding for state grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a $20 million increase over last year. And, vocational rehabilitation will see a $304 million boost, bringing the program to $4.25 billion.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

At the same time, however, home and community-based supportive services, state developmental disabilities councils, protection and advocacy agencies and many other programs that people with disabilities rely on will see level funding, which disability advocates say is essentially a cut when inflation is factored.

The budget doesn’t take into account the realities facing people with developmental disabilities and their families, according to Kim Musheno, vice president of public policy at the Autism Society of America. She pointed out that the Administration for Community Living, which oversees many efforts to support people with disabilities across the lifespan, will see a decrease. And, funding remains flat for the Autism CARES Act and the Lifespan Respite Care Act, she said.

“Given the tremendous needs of the community, we are disappointed that Congress level-funded most programs that support people with disabilities,” Musheno said. “I wish more members of Congress could walk a day — or month — in the shoes of people with developmental disabilities and their families.”

Even the increase for special education comes with an asterisk, according to Denise Marshall, CEO of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, or COPAA, a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of students with disabilities and their families.

“We appreciate the increase as a step in the right direction during intense budget negotiations, however, it’s not yet a win for students,” Marshall said.

She called the extra $20 million for IDEA a “token” increase that won’t meaningfully impact the program and said her group is pushing for Congress to fulfill its commitment to fund 40% of the cost of special education.

Still, many disability advocates said they’re relieved to see lawmakers bring the appropriations process to a close even if it’s just in time for Congress to start deliberating federal funding for the next fiscal year, which will start in October.

“The upshot on this budget is mostly that it could have been much worse than it is,” said Zoe Gross, director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.