On Monday, the Trump administration released full details of its 2020 budget request, the general outlines of which were released last week. The initial release called for cuts to nearly every federal agency, with deep cuts to the State Department, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and others. Only the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs would receive substantial increases.
With this week’s release, the administration provided a fuller picture of its anti-government, pro-military vision for the U.S. The long list of cuts targets programs for the poor, middle-income Americans, the environment and peacekeeping.
Cuts Target the Poor, People of Color and Students
Perhaps more than any other group, this budget would hurt poor Americans, particularly people of color.
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Among anti-poverty programs under threat, the budget would make it harder for kids to qualify for free school lunch, institute new work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps, and replace some SNAP benefits with paternalistic “harvest food” boxes that reduce food choice for recipients (and which, contrary to the branding, would consist of foods such as shelf-stable milk and canned fruit). It further decimates the already weakened Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, commonly known as welfare, by reducing its budget, limiting eligibility, and making work requirements more central by limiting states’ flexibility in how to use funds.
Services for poor people face elimination and cuts, too: Before- and after-school care provided through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program; low-income heating and cooling assistance; and the Legal Services Corporation, more commonly known by its Legal Aid programs that provide legal representation to low-income Americans, would all be eliminated entirely.
People of color, and especially those with higher poverty rates, are targets of the budget’s austerity. The request eliminates job training funds through the Labor Department’s Indian and Native American Program and community development funds through the Indian Community Development Block Grant, and cuts affordable housing grants to Native American tribes and Alaska Native villages. It targets immigrants by eliminating the Labor Department’s Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Program, which aims to increase employment and earnings for migrant and seasonal workers by providing services like job training and housing assistance. The budget would also require that all applicants show a valid social security number to claim tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Care Tax Credit — a requirement that intentionally and disproportionately targets undocumented immigrants who pay income taxes.
The proposal also has it out for students and young people. It would cut funding for the federal work-study program that primarily benefits lower- or middle-income college students and the Job Corps program that provides early work experience and training to 50,000 low-income and disproportionately Black youth each year. It would also eliminate the public service loan forgiveness program and subsidized student loans for college, which help limit the interest students must pay. There are currently 29 million subsidized student loans on the books, worth a total of $277 billion.
Medicaid for the Few
The budget process that kicks off with the release of the president’s budget request and ends with the passage of a budget by Congress doesn’t actually set budgets for Medicaid and Medicare, but it’s frequently used by presidents to express their intentions for those programs.
Trump took the opportunity with this budget release to make clear his preference for a much-reduced Medicaid program in particular. The proposal would end the expansion of Medicaid made possible by the Affordable Care Act and under which 17 million Americans gained health insurance, and would repeal both the individual mandate for health insurance and the health insurance subsidies from the Affordable Care Act.
It would further replace traditional Medicaid spending, which can expand to meet need, with “market-based” health spending set to a predetermined level that would rise at a lower rate than health care spending, so that the buying power of the program would decrease over time, resulting in inevitable loss of insurance, health benefits or both to current Medicaid recipients. Expected Medicaid spending of $1.5 trillion would be replaced with only $1.2 trillion in funding for the new system.
Damaging States, Cities and Towns
On average, states get about 30 percent of their operating funds from the federal government, meaning that federal spending provides the bedrock for many local government programs, including crucial investments in schools and economic development. The Trump proposal puts an end to many programs that support states, regions and cities.
The budget includes a proposal to shut down the Economic Development Administration, which provides local grants for everything from local economic planning to infrastructure investment and disaster aid, giving it a total budget of $30 million to “conduct an orderly closure.” It would also end the Community Development Block Grant program, which provides local aid to support adequate affordable housing and to create job opportunities for poor and lower-income residents; the similar Community Services Block Grant program, which provides grants to cities, states and other localities to address poverty and homelessness and served nearly 17 million people in 2017; and the HOME program, which has helped build and preserve well over 1 million affordable homes throughout the country.
The shuttering of programs designed to place control over economic development and poverty alleviation in local hands is particularly ironic, given that a key rationale for the administration’s proposals to dismantle Medicaid and other programs is to put government spending back under local control.
Peacekeeping and International Order
Despite claiming concern over federal deficits, the list of major cuts has not so much as one entry for the agency that takes up more than half of the $1 trillion that Congress allocates each year: the Department of Defense. The budget illustrates the administration’s disdain for programs that aim to prevent war and address the root causes of conflict, in contrast to its enthusiasm for displays of military might.
While the military budget gets a boost, the proposal includes plenty of cuts related to diplomacy, foreign aid and peacekeeping. It includes proposed cuts to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development of $3 billion for economic aid and an additional $1.7 billion in food aid to foreign countries.
The budget would also cut U.S. contributions to UN peacekeeping from $1.5 billion in 2019 to $1.1 billion in 2020. It would cut in half the $39 million budget for the tiny U.S. Institute for Peace, a federally funded nonprofit that works internationally to prevent violent conflict, sending the organization begging to other government departments, including the Department of Defense, to fund its work. With a foreign policy framework and Pentagon budget that already make militarization the first response to crises worldwide, forcing a peace agency to apply to the Pentagon for funds invites further militarization of our foreign policy.
Meanwhile, the budget gives the Pentagon a 5 percent raise worth $33 billion — nearly as much as the entire proposed budget for the State Department and international aid.
Energy and Climate
The budget saves some of its worst cuts for energy and science programs. The budget eliminates or cuts the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects program, Applied Energy Program, and energy technology loans, all of which help bring new energy technologies to market, on the justification that private companies are best positioned to decide what to sell. The problem with such thinking is that it ignores non-profit-based rationales for investing in new energy technologies – rationales such as climate change. The administration would also defund renewable energy and energy efficiency programs like tribal loans for the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, and the Energy Start program, among others.
The budget also proposes to privatize energy grid infrastructure now owned by the federal government, and would allow private grid owners to charge higher energy rates. Federally owned power utilities are currently limited to charging customers for the cost of the electricity. Part of a disturbing move toward privatizing pubic infrastructure, the proposal would also privatize Washington, D.C.’s publicly owned water supply.
Profound Damage to Our Way of Life
From our health care to education to the very water we drink, the Trump budget proposes to shut down programs meant to assist those without the means to do so meet their basic needs in favor of more military spending and power company fortunes.
The good news is that a president’s budget does not have the force of law. Many of its measures stand no chance under Democratic control of the House of Representatives, and many of the proposed cuts are unpopular even among Republican legislators. Yet each time cuts come up for consideration, programs are at risk, even if the eventual cuts are less than what the administration has proposed. Each of these proposals must get through Congress before it becomes a reality, and now is the time for Americans to let their representatives know what kind of budget they want to see.