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.


Blame Game Not the Real Sequestration Story

February 18, 2013

The manager of a LinkedIn group I belong to asked whether Congress should delay the sequester the President “had demanded as part of the Budget Control Act.”

This set off a long string of responses — and long answers from the manager. As you might guess from the original question, the debate centered largely on whom to blame and why.

I mention this back-and-forth because it resembles much of the news coverage of the impending across-the-board cuts — and the op-eds as well.

We get blow-by-blow reports on who said what, who’s got the upper hand and how we got into this mess to begin with.

We get justifications of the President’s call for a balanced alternative. We get rehashes of the Republicans’ talking points. See, for example, this classic by Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Now this isn’t the whole of the media stream, of course. We’ve also had coverage of how sequestration will affect the economy as a whole — often, though not always combined with its impacts on the labor market.

Also some fearsome warnings about how the defense cuts will cripple our national security.

Defense contractors have been very busy folks. So much so that the economy-jobs coverage often focuses on the jobs they’ll cut — and, thanks to the Pentagon, on civilian layoffs in the Defense Department as well.

We haven’t been hearing nearly as much about the impacts of the across-the-board cuts to the many and varied programs inelegantly lumped into the “non-defense discretionary” category.

Even more importantly, we haven’t been hearing much about the people these cuts will harm — unless you count the gross job loss figures.

In point of fact, the cuts will potentially harm us all.

The Food and Drug Administration won’t conduct as many food safety inspections. And it’s already not conducting nearly as many as it should.

Our communities may have fewer firefighters and the emergency personnel we perforce count on during and after natural disasters.

Our public schools will lose teachers — either that or our state and local governments will have to pick up the costs of keeping them. That would undoubtedly mean either higher taxes or, more likely, cutbacks in other programs and services we value.

A bare handful of examples.

Those who want to get a fuller picture can read a letter to colleagues by Congressman Norman Dicks or a report, both more and less comprehensive, by Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services and Education.

The figures in both of these documents are outdated because they were issued before Congress decided to postpone sequestration until the beginning of next month.

But each, in its own way, helps us understand that the real story of sequestration isn’t — or shouldn’t be — about who’s to blame for the fact we’re facing it or who will get the blame if it happens.

It’s about the people across this country who will be adversely affected — and above all, the people who can least afford more adversity.

I’m talking, of course, about low-income people who rely on safety net programs and other publicly-funded programs that offer them and their children a chance to gain a toehold in the middle class.

I’ve been struggling to tell this story for well over two weeks and haven’t been able to corral the many, many figures — the dollar losses and the losers — into a reasonably tidy post that makes them meaningful.

As fallback, here’s another bare handful of examples — these pulled from a recently-issued White House fact sheet.

  • Approximately 600,000 mothers and young children will lose the specially-tailored nutrition assistance, education and health care referrals they get from WIC.
  • Approximately 70,000 children will be dropped from Head Start and Early Start programs, losing the diverse services that help them enter kindergarten as healthy and ready to learn as their better-off peers.
  • Nearly 1.2 million school-age children will lose access to programs and services designed to help them overcome learning disadvantages associated with poverty, limited English proficiency and other factors.
  • Long-term jobless workers and their families will face unemployment benefits cuts as high as 9.4%.

These aren’t the only imminent threats to the well-being and future prospects of low-income children.

For example, some large, though unknown number of children may become homeless, since the White House says that 125,000 families are likely to lose their federally-funded housing vouchers — an even larger number than the estimate I recently cited.

At the same time, they’ll be less likely to receive short-shot assistance that could help them move to cheaper housing — and even less likely than now to gain access to shelter or housing subsidized by homeless assistance grants.

I suppose journalists will find stories in the across-the-board cuts once families start losing their housing subsidies, frail seniors their home-delivered meals, veterans their shelter access, etc.

Perhaps enough of these stories will make the impending cuts a brief, unhappy episode in our history.

Perhaps next year’s budget will, to borrow from the President, give low-income people a fair shot at a better future — and a fair enough share of our country’s great wealth to meet their basic needs.

Perhaps, but as doubtful, I fear, as the Republicans agreeing to tax increases now — or Democrats to an alternative that’s non-defense spending cuts alone.