Non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs comprise domestic and international programs outside of national defense that Congress funds on an annual basis. (They exclude “entitlement” programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.)
NDD programs include a broad set of public services, including environmental protection, education, job training, border security, veterans’ health care, scientific research, transportation, economic development, low-income assistance, law enforcement, and international assistance.
In 2012, NDD spending totaled $616 billion, or 17 percent of federal spending. Of that total, 34 percent went to grants to states and localities, such as for K-12 education and highway projects, while 21 percent went to low-income programs, such as Head Start and low-income housing assistance. These categories are not mutually exclusive; a sizable share of grants to states and localities support low-income programs.
In the chart, Economic security programs constituted 13 percent ($77 billion) of NDD spending in 2012. Programs in this category primarily help households meet basic needs such as housing, fuel, child care, and food costs.
Housing assistance, including rental vouchers and subsidies, homeless prevention programs, and assisted housing for elderly and special-needs populations, accounts for nearly 60 percent of economic security spending. Another 10 percent goes to food and nutrition programs, such as WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), which provides food assistance to approximately 9 million low-income mothers and children.
The CBPP report indicates that NDD funding is set to decline over the next decade as a share of the economy. The 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) set limits or “caps” on annual discretionary funding through 2021, imposing separate caps for defense and non-defense funding. Under the caps, NDD spending will fall to its lowest level as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) on record by 2017, with data going back to 1962, and will continue to fall thereafter.