A Slice of the Trump Budget’s Shrunken Pie for the Needs of Low-Income People

May 26, 2017

Well, we finally have the full version of Trump’s proposed budget for upcoming fiscal year. And we’ve all seen and/or heard news reports, op-eds, social media takes and the like.

They generally have one of two focuses — new cuts, both total and by cabinet-level department or cuts to certain specific programs.

These tacks are basically the same as when the administration released its skinny budget preview, except that we now have a shift prompted by a range of cuts to safety net programs that don’t depend on annual appropriations.

I expect to deal with some of both, but for the time being, I’ll stick with a large perspective on a subset of programs intended to serve human needs — the non-defense discretionary programs, i.e., those annually funded as Congress chooses and the President approves, as Presidents generally do.

We have a broad range of these, of course. They include, bur aren’t limited to programs that support:

  • Some healthcare services, mainly for veterans.
  • Sufficient, healthful diets for mothers and their young children, plus food for nonprofits to give low-income people and/or serve as meals.
  • Public education, mainly for low-income children and those with disabilities.
  • Other opportunities to achieve financial self-sufficiency and security.
  • Child care so that parents can participate in such programs and afford paying jobs.
  • Safe, stable housing that leaves enough income to help pay for other needs.

The Coalition on Human Needs chose 185 such programs and tracked their funding from 2010, the year before Congress passed the Budget Control Act, through the budget the federal government’s operating under now.

All but 32 had been cut, either directly or for want of adjustments to keep pace with inflation, it found. Nearly a third had lost at least 25%, even though the Obama administration and wise heads in Congress agreed to temporarily modify the spending caps the BCA imposed.

Seems that Republicans over on the Senate side aim for another bipartisan agreement to suspend or at least modify the caps, lest they have to ax spending below the too-low levels already in force.

What’s sure as dammit, as the Washington Post reports, is that they’ll not try to push through the extraordinarily harsh cuts the Trump administration proposes as-is.

Most of the new news rightly focuses on the billions of cuts to so-called mandatory spending programs — also sometimes called entitlements.

They’re mandatory because the laws that authorize them require the federal government to spend as much as necessary to cover the costs or its share of costs for the benefits of everyone eligible to receive and enrolled to get them.

Truth to tell, I’m torn between delving into these unprecedentedly sweeping proposals to gut the safety net and giving them short shrift because they’re DOA. So I’ll end here with just a few examples of the proposed NDD cuts and consequences.

The Trump budget would deny affordable housing to more than 250,000 of the country’s lowest-income individuals and families who could otherwise have vouchers to cover all but 30% of their income for rent.

At the same time, it would reportedly increase tenants’ rent responsibility to 35% of adjusted income and impose a $50 minimum on those who had no or virtually no countable income at all. Income regardless, tenants would have to pay for their household utilities, which current law folds in with rent.

Public housing, which subsidizes rents at the same rate, would lose another $18 billion — nearly 29% more than it’s lost through this fiscal year. The stock available has been steadily shrinking due to lack of funds for repairs and renovations.

For these, as well as other reasons, we have and foreseeably will have some 550,000 people who’ve become officially homeless or very soon will unless they get some one-time or temporary help with rent.

Some have been homeless for a long time or repeatedly because they need not only an affordable place to live, but services to help them with physical and/or mental disabilities.

The Trump budget, however, would cut the grants local communities receive for shelters, permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless I’ve just cited and homelessness prevention or when that’s not possible swift support so people can leave shelters for affordable housing.

The budget would terminate the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program, another homelessness prevention program — and a lifesaver too, since people, especially the frail and elderly can freeze to death in their homes or die because they depend on medical equipment that uses electricity, as 26% did when the last survey was conducted.

Roughly 6.7 million families would lose the subsidies they need to keep their homes warm if Congress moves from under-funding LIHEAP to excising it from the safety net altogether.

Turning then to those job opportunities. The Trump budget would cut a range of programs that help people prepare for gainful work — adult basic education, including preparation for GED exams, career and technical education programs in high schools and colleges and the diverse programs funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

The Trump budget would cut WIOA funding by 43%, as compared to 2015 funding, the Center for American Progress reports. Nearly 571,000 workers nationwide — close to half of the total then served — could be left to muddle through with only what has failed to net them a decent paying job or any at all.

Pretty ironic — or one might say hypocritical — for a President who’s made such a big deal about job opportunities and, more recently, about how he’ll change safety net programs so they no longer discourage work.

More as the dust clears or perhaps as I find angles you’re unlikely to see highlighted in the plethora of conventional and social media stories, analyses and overt budget-bashing.

Meanwhile, we do have ways we can support the defensive campaigns that will give Congressional Republican pause.

CAP and fifteen partners, including CHN have launched an initiative called Hands Off—and #HandsOff as a hashtag for those who want to tweet about programs they want protected.

They’ve got a website where we can contribute stories about how the programs have helped us and what would happen to us, our families or others we know if they’re cut. With our permission, they’ll share our stories.

Reporters, as you know, are always looking for the personal lead-in or thread.

The coalition, CAP says, will also ensure that members of Congress learn from the stories how their own constituents would be affected. How then they may vote, as it doesn’t say, but needn’t.

Some members lean toward — or out-and-out support — less federal spending, especially on so-called welfare programs. But getting reelected and preserving their majority will trump the Trump proposals handily.

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What to Ask About New Safety Net Work Requirements

March 6, 2017

As I said last week, we’ve reasons to expect that more work requirements imposed on “work-able” adults who have — or need to have — safety net benefits. So it’s worth considering how we might assess what state governors and legislatures propose.

We have two major models for work requirements — Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and SNAP (the food stamp program), as applicable to able-bodied adults without dependents.

Both permit not only work for pay, but participation in a program that prepares for such work. Participation counts only if for a minimum numbers of hours. generally averaged over some period of time.

Assuming, as I think one can, that proposed new work requirements will include a broader range of permissible activities than work for pay, we thus have some experience to assess them. Some questions then.

Will the state ensure that all unemployed or under-employed adults who are otherwise eligible for the safety net program can get a slot in a job training program for the requisite number of hours?

Very few states do for the ABAWDs, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports. The federal government provides states with some funds expressly for SNAP-related employment and training. But most states use most of those funds to move adults with children into the workforce.

Experience with TANF also makes this a relevant question. I haven’t seen a comprehensive account of slot shortages. This much we know. States spend, on average, 7% of their federal funds, plus those they must spend to get them on work activities.

The District of Columbia’s TANF program reflected a similar priority in the not-too-distant past. In 2014, parents waited up to 11 months for access to a job training program. And the clock kept ticking, so to speak, toward the date when they and their children could never have TANF benefits again.

Will the state provide the other resources many of the adults will need to work or participate in a job training program for the required number of hours?

The adults, by definition, have little, if any income. And such as they have, must often pay for rent, food (even with SNAP benefits) and other basic needs, e.g., supplies and handfuls of coins for laundry, telecommunications of some sort.

Will the state provide transportation and/or a transportation subsidy, e.g., an auto fuel allowance for those with a car, a bus pass and/or subway fare card for those on a public transit route?

And what about the adults with children not old enough to be in school during all the hours they’re supposed to work or prepare for same? They’ll need free or nearly-free child care. And it’s unrealistic, as well as potentially unsafe for the kids to expect parents to count on friends or relatives.

The affordable childcare record generally indicates a gap to fill. Last year, for example, 20 states had waiting lists for childcare assistance or had closed them, the National Women’s Law Center reports.

Virtually all states require parents to chip in some money of their own, as a co-pay. It’s generally small as a percent of income for those below the poverty line.

But in at least four states, it’s at least 10% — $250 a month for a single parent with just one child. (Some exceptions here that wouldn’t apply to every parent subject to a new work requirement.)

How will state identify adults who aren’t work-able?

SNAP rules exclude from the ABAWD requirement adults who are medically certified as unemployable due to a mental or physical condition, pregnant or otherwise already exempt, presumably because they’ve qualified for SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income).

The bar here is very high. Someone, for example, may be employable, i.e., able to work and get a job, but not for an average of 20 hours a week or for months at a time. One or both are common enough for people with certain chronic conditions.

So what standard will the state set? Will it ensure that all adults potentially unable to work can have the requisite medical review — and, if necessary, the legal help to surmount to notorious barriers to gaining federal disability benefits?

Consider too that adults who’ve no disabilities may have compelling, related reasons not to work — a child with severe disabilities who needs constant care, for example, or a frail, aged parent.

Most states and the District exempt TANF parents with such responsibilities from work requirements. Will states do the same if they opt for new work requirements?

Will participating adults be able to find jobs — and keep them?

No job training program lasts indefinitely. And it’s very doubtful that a state would allow a work-able adult to move from one to the next and then the next until s/he could find a job.

Yet some safety net participants have what are commonly called barriers to work, e.g. mental or physical disabilities that don’t rise to the SSI/SSDI level, functional illiteracy. Just plain long-term unemployment is a barrier too, as are common consequences—credit checks, for example.

On the other hand, many adults who rely, at least for awhile on safety net benefits had jobs no longer available in the area they live in — or elsewhere.

The jobless former factory workers and coal miners that Trump appealed to would seem to need retraining tailored to employers’ needs in their area — and others projected nationally.

Will the state do the necessary market and personal assessments? How will it provide these and other services to poor people in small rural communities, if it has them?

Where will the money come from?

Well, the state shouldn’t look to the federal government for more funds — not at least for the foreseeable.

Recall that the flexibility states would gain to impose work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries would also shift costs to them, increasingly over time — currently estimated at $560 billion over the next 10 years.

Experience with not only TANF, but SNAP E&T offers further cautions. Congress, as you probably know, has never increased funding for the former. The latest Farm Bill restored the latter to the same maximum it had in 2004 — in real dollars, about 44% less.

And the budget Trump is trumpeting would reduce total federal spending for non-defense discretionary programs by $54 billion — not a happy prospect for the grants states receive for job training, placement help and the like.

These aren’t the only questions I’d want to ask. But they must suffice for now, lest this post swell entirely out of compass. Would any of you like to add others?


What Would DC Lose Under The House Budget Bill?

February 26, 2011

I’ve been trying to get my mind around what the spending cuts passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would mean for the District of Columbia.

Still working on it. There are, after all, a great many cuts and many different formulas for distributing such funds as remain.

Fortunately, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has come to the rescue with big parts of the answer — a state-by-state breakout of the major cuts in five broad categories.

It’s an heroic effort, but not exhaustive. Missing, for example, are breakouts of the $747.2 million cut to WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children)* and cuts to several other health-related programs.

One of these would totally wipe out long-standing federal funding for family planning and related preventive health care. Another would cut funding for community health centers by $1 billion — about a third of their total federal funding, says Joan McCarter, Senior Policy Editor at Daily Kos.

The CBPP figures reflect the continuing resolution as it was introduced. The version of House passed included numerous amendments. But so far as I know, only one of them affected the cuts CBPP calculated. I’ll post an update if I learn I’m wrong about this.

So, with caveats, here are some of the top-line figures for programs that are especially important to low-income District residents.

Education

The District would lose a total of $8.6 million in grants for K-12 education programs. (I’m assuming here that the funds the House restored for special education would be offset by the larger funding cut approved for school improvements.)

About 44,000 local college students would see their Pell grants reduced or altogether eliminated. The maximum grant they could receive would be $845 less than it is now. Because all grants are based on the maximum, the cut would affect all recipients.

Vocational and adult education programs would be cut by a total of $190,000.

Workforce Development

The job training and related services funded under the Workforce Investment Act would take a much bigger hit than the vocational and adult ed. programs — bigger even than CBPP originally reported.

WIA programs operate on a fiscal year that begins on July 1 — three months before new federal appropriations become effective. So they customarily get advance funding to carry them through. The continuing resolution doesn’t provide any.

So according to CBPP’s recalculation, the District would stand to lose $8.2 million for its WIA Fiscal Year 2011 program year. An estimated 20,900 adults now eligible would lose opportunities for skills assessments, training, job search help and the like, as would about 450 youth.

Affordable Housing

The District’s capital fund grant for public housing would be cut by $9.2 million. This is the grant that helps cover the costs of upgrading and repairing public housing units.

An additional $900,000 would be lost for affordable housing development and rental assistance funded under the HOME Investment Partnerships program.

Community Development

The District would also lose $12.4 million of the funds it receives from the Community Development Block Grant. That’s about 63% of what it received in Fiscal Year 2010.

The block grant can be used for a broad range of activities, including affordable housing development, neighborhood revitalization, improvements to public facilities like neighborhood centers and assistance to businesses for economic development activities that will benefit principally low and moderate-income people.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Two other block grants provide the District with funding for mental health services and for substance abuse prevention and treatment. Both would be cut, leaving the District with $471,000 less.

And, once again, the District would be banned from using its own funds for needle exchanges to help control the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Funding Exclusively for the District

CBPP understandably doesn’t cover the impending cut to funding the District receives because it’s the nation’s capital — and a unique state-city hybrid created and still controlled by Congress.

Under the continuing resolution, federal payments to the District would reportedly be cut by more than $80 million. Our Metro system would lose an additional $150 million.

“Another serious blow to the District’s precarious financial situation,” says Mayor Vincent Gray. He warns that the cuts “will probably result in the elimination of key services for residents of the District.”

Unquestionably, especially if he’s talking about the total prospective losses.

On the brighter side, the District almost certainly won’t lose all the funds the pending continuing resolution would take away. The Senate won’t pass the bill as written. President Obama has all but said he’d veto it if the Senate did.

However, the House Republican leadership has made clear that it won’t agree to even a short-term bill to avert a government shutdown unless it includes some cuts in current spending levels.

As so often in these cases, low-income people are likely to get thrown under the bus.

* This is the figure in a just-released budget report by the Coalition on Human Needs. CBPP’s overview for the state-by-state tables and my own calculations put the figure at a rounded-down $752 million.

UPDATE 1: After posting this, I found a state-by-state breakout for the cut to community health centers. According to the national association that represents them, the District would lose $865,826, and 3,755 patients would lose access to care.

UPDATE 2: I originally reported that K-12 education would be cut by $5.4 million. This was an error on my part. The correct figure is in the text above.


Not Enough Revenues To Break The Shortfall Cycle

December 4, 2010

FuseDC blogger Charise puts her finger on an issue I’ve been mulling over. Only difference is that she’s furious and I’m just stymied.

As Charise says, “front-end investments in prevention and intervention measures for youth and families” cost a whole lot less than programs that address our failures to provide the integrated education, training and other services that will get young people into ongoing living-wage employment.

Yet we don’t want to pit investments that will in the long run pay off in higher tax revenues and reduced social spending against programs that provide a safety net for those our system has failed.

Nor, I trust, do we want to opt for investments in youth development if that means neglecting the needs of people who for various reasons can’t become fully self-sufficient. What about seniors who worked at low-wage jobs their whole lives and now depend on meager Social Security retirement benefits? What about individuals with severe physical and/or mental disabilities?

And what about investments in programs that can lift adults out of poverty? These too will reduce safety net spending — and probably needs for spending on young high school dropouts and other “disconnected youth” as well.

So here’s the quandary. We know that robust, well-targeted investments in public education, job creation, workforce development, child care and other poverty reduction programs will help get us out of the current cycle of budget gaps that repeatedly have sent District officials back to the drawing board.

In fact, they’ll generate more revenues to plow back into these investments. But the budget gaps result largely from revenue shortfalls. So we don’t have the funds to turn the spending cycle around — more on prevention and early intervention, less on safety net because less needed.

Look, for example, at what the DC Council faces now. Say it finds the funds to make the adult job training program whole again. That would still leave local funding for the program at only $9.2 million — this when a 2007 Brookings Institution study found that as many as 61,000 low-income working-age residents needed more training and related services.

Say the Council rejects the proposed cut in funding for subsidized child care. That would still leave about 13,000 children on the waiting list for placements.

Parents with very young and/or disabled children would still face a formidable barrier to sustained full-time employment. More child care providers could close their doors, putting yet more people out of work — and likely in need of additional training.

Same story for a host of other investments that pay off in the long run.

The Council can and should find alternatives to Mayor Fenty’s proposed cuts that don’t make a bad situation worse — a new top income tax bracket among them.

But I think the District is in the same situation as state governments across the country. The need to maintain a balanced budget when this deep recession has so depressed revenues severely limits measures that could generate more revenues without further tax increases while also reducing pressures on the safety net.

The federal government doesn’t have to keep its budget balanced. It could shore up hard-pressed state and local programs, including some that have been under-funded for a long time. Instead, we see a range of initiatives to slash federal spending — not just in the long term, but right now.

Not a damn thing we can do about this so far as I can see.


Who Will Share In DC’s Economic Recovery?

September 27, 2009

The greater Washington area seems to be on the road to economic recovery. The Brookings Institution reports that it’s one of three metro areas whose economic input returned to its pre-recession level in the second quarter of 2009. And the Washington Business Journal reports that IHS Global Insight–an economic forecasting firm–predicts that the area will get back to its pre-recession job level in 2011.

This is good news. But we must remember the area’s history of unevenly shared prosperity. We were recently reminded of this when the Washington Post reported that the District’s unemployment rate surged to 11.1% in August, while Virginia’s fell to 6.5% and Maryland’s stabilized at 7.2%.

The Post noted that “some employment experts attributed the disparity to the higher proportion in the District of undereducated employees.” We’ve got large disparities within the District–and for the same reason.

In 2007, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute reported that the District’s decade-long economic boom had not been widely shared. This could be seen in the low employment levels among African-Americans and residents without postsecondary training and in dramatically growing disparities between high-wage and low-wage workers.

Recently-released census data show that these trends continue. As DCFPI reports, the overall median income for D.C. households rose in 2008, but households led by someone without a high school degree saw their incomes drop by nearly 20%. And while the inflation-adjusted median income for white households grew by 20% from 2000 to 2008, black households’ median income rose by just 2%.

Clearly, improving all levels of education and training must be a central element of efforts to bridge this economic divide. As a joint report by DCFPI and DC Appleseed says, D.C. has a “high-skill, knowledge-based economy,” with strong credentials required for even low-skill jobs.

Nobody would say that the Fenty administration isn’t trying to improve primary and secondary education. But adult education and training need attention too.

According to Census Bureau estimates, in 2007, approximately 51% of D.C. residents 25 years or older had attained less than an associate’s degree. And a 2007 Brookings report estimated that between 51,000 and 61,000 low-income working-age residents were in need of workforce development services to compete in the District’s high-skill labor market.

The Great Recession has almost certainly increased the need for such services. Of course, it’s also reduced tax revenues, thus hampering the District government’s ability to fund them.

But there’s some heartening news. The District has received $10.7 million in workforce development funds from the economic stimulus package. It plans to use the money to train residents for jobs in growth industries, i.e., emerging “green” industries, health care and hospitality. In fact, many who receive “green” training may get work immediately on the $8.1 million weatherization initiative that ARRA has funded.

And despite budget challenges, D.C. policymakers have thus far kept $4.6 million of locally-funded adult job training in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget.

If you believe that adult job training should be a top priority, you have a chance to weigh in by testifying at the public oversight roundtable that the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development will hold on Thursday, October 1.

The roundtable will start at 11:00 a.m. in Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW). You can also submit testimony for the record. For either option, you’ll need to contact Drew Hubbard at 202-727-8230 or dhubbard@dccouncil.us.

This recession has taught us that we’re all affected by one another’s economic fortunes. Let’s each do our part to ensure that we learn from past mistakes and climb out of this economic morass together.

UPDATE:  The Committee on Housing and Workforce Development roundtable has been postponed. No new date has as yet been announced.