Appropriations: Amount and Timing

The power of Congress to “appropriate” is derived from Article I, Sec. 9 of the U.S. Constitution, which provides that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law….”

When Congress makes an “appropriation” to a Federal department or agency, it is providing legal authority (often called “budget authority”) for the department or agency to enter into obligations that will result in Federal outlays.

Appropriations can be described by: (1) amount; and (2) timing.

Amount of the Appropriation:  In most cases, the amount of an appropriation is “definite,” i.e. Congress is providing authority to obligate a specified sum.  However, appropriations may also be “indefinite” at the time of enactment if, for example, the appropriation provides authority to use the future proceeds from federal sales or collections.

Timing of the Appropriation:  

  • One-Year Authority Appropriations authority is commonly available for one fiscal year, i.e. the authority to enter into obligations begins October 1 of the specified fiscal year and ends September 30 — the last day of the fiscal year.
    In addition to one-year authority, there are several other types of appropriations: 
  • Multiyear appropriations are available for a fixed period of time in excess of one fiscal year, for example 2-year or 3-year authority.
  • No-year appropriations remain available for obligation for an indefinite period of time with language stating “to remain available until expended.”
  • Permanent appropriations authority remains available without any further legislative action.  Examples are authority to use Social Security payroll tax receipts for the payment of benefits; or the authority to use certain types of non-tax receipts for a specified purpose.
  • Advance appropriations become available in the future — one or more fiscal years after the upcoming budget year (the “budget year” is the upcoming fiscal year for which most appropriations are being enacted).  The amount is not included in the budget totals of the year for which the appropriation act is enacted but rather in the totals for the later year.
  • Advance funding, by contrast, refers to authority to obligate in the current fiscal year funds from a succeeding year’s appropriation.  It’s a way to avoid supplemental requests late in a fiscal year for certain entitlement programs when the appropriations for the current year prove to be insufficient.
  • Forward funding becomes available late in a fiscal year (often July 1) and is carried into the following fiscal year.  Forward funding is particularly useful for education programs because it allows obligations to be made during the summer months for programs that start during the fall.  For example the FY 2019 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill could make funds for the 2019-2020 school year available on July 1, 2019 and continue their availability through FY 2020.