Do you commute to work, have a family member with cancer, or know anyone who’s ever lived in a flood zone? Than you should be paying close attention to that most D.C. of Washington annual rituals, the making of the federal budget. President Donald Trump’s dramatic budget has one clear winner (Defense) and a long list of losers — yes, a budget can be dramatic — so you don’t want to ignore his proposals until it’s too late to influence the final outcome. So here’s our guide to some of the 80 or so programs that are targeted for deep cuts or outright elimination by Trump’s accounting.
Before we start, it’s important to understand that the federal budget process is a marathon, and we’re only at mile marker one. The White House has only released the so-called ‘skinny’ budget, with more a more detailed budget yet to come, followed by Congress’ own ideas about how to spend Americans’ money. Still, Trump’s opening bid has clearly set the agenda — anchoring the debate, as behavioral economist might say — so it needs critical examination.
Also, many of the cuts described in the ‘skinny’ budget are not yet specific – they are across-the-board budget cuts at large departments, such as the 16 percent cut at Health and Human Services. While many observers presume that would ultimately mean cuts to popular programs like Meals on Wheels, that’s not necessarily true, as such programs are ultimately administered at more local levels.
Still, there are enough programs called out specifically by Trump’s budget that one can imagine how America, and your community, might change were the budget to pass as is.
Trains, trains, go away – with one important exception
If you live in Whitefish, Montana – or hope to visit there by rail – there’s bad news. You would probably losing Amtrak train service. Same for Leavenworth, Washington. And if you find the idea of taking a train called The Empire Builder or The City of New Orleans, well, you might have to console yourself with listening to the old blues song with that name instead.
And if you live in a city like Seattle which is in the middle of a massive new commuter rail project, you probably shouldn’t sell your car any time soon.
On the other hand, if you live in Philadelphia or Baltimore, it’s possible your Amtrak service will improve.
Trump’s budget directly calls for the elimination of long-haul routes on Amtrak. These are largely used by tourists and have often been criticized as money-losing and unnecessary, particularly when the busy Northeast Corridor between Washington D.C. and Boston is overcrowded and profitable. The good news for east coasters is some of those savings are being directed to improve service on the nation’s busiest rail line.
The Trump budget actually calls for a 13 percent overall cut at the Department of Transportation, which will impact local rail project, too — like Seattle’s decades-long effort to get a light rail system off the ground, which would half its funding. Some 70-such projects around the country are on the chopping block. So is a program named TIGER, which helped local governments pay for so-called “multi-modal” projects – often bike trails.
“Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects,” the proposal says.
Flood zones frozen
Do you live near a flood-prone area or care about someone who does? Your life could get more complicated under Trump’s budget, which eliminates the Flood Hazard Mapping Program.
Flood maps are controversial because when they change – and change always means “expands,” because development almost always expands – they require more homeowners to buy flood insurance. On the other hand, the consequences of failing to update flood maps can be devastating, which America learned the hard way during Hurricane Katrina. People buy homes thinking they are safe from floods, and builders develop on land that’s unsafe.
“As maps age they become more and more inaccurate, always on the low side because new construction fills the flood plain and water levels during a flood rise as a result,” said the Consumer Federation of America in a statement criticizing elimination of the mapping program. “Shortly after Hurricane Katrina … the average map being replaced was 20 years old and 10 feet too low. The outdated maps led people to build homes they thought were safe but were not.”
The budget says Trump’s admiration will “explore other more effective and fair” ways to pay for new maps. Detractors oppose anything that makes flood insurance premiums more expensive, however, as that might lead to folks dropping flood insurance, creating another long-term headache.
Need a lawyer? It’ll cost you
If you’ve ever had a dispute with a landlord or a domestic partner and turned to a non-profit legal aid service for help, you might have been helped by the Legal Services Corporation. Since 1974, Legal Aid has provided access to America’s otherwise expensive court system through a network of 133 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in 800 offices around the country. The program is targeted for elimination in the Trump budget. Some 1.9 million Americans used legal aid in 2014, the last year for which data is available, the organization says.
“Our nation’s core values are reflected in the LSC’s work in securing housing for veterans, freeing seniors from scams, serving rural areas when others won’t, protecting battered women, helping disaster survivors back to their feet, and many others,” said Linda Klein, bar association president, in a statement. “The LSC embodies these principles by securing the rights of the least fortunate among us.”
Help for addicts, less help for cancer patients
Cancer research is all about the race against time. If you know anyone fighting cancer, or your family has a history or cancer, you are probably inclined to support bold investment in potential cures that show promise. Cancer research is also very expensive because it involves costly, time-consuming human drug trials. Most of the nation’s innovative disease research projects begin with funding by the National Institutes of Health, which doles out grant money to facilities like the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Many research facilities are ringing the alarm bell over deep proposed cuts in the pool of money NIH gets to distribute – -it loses about 20 percent of its funding in the Trump budget. Critics say that will delay life-saving cures.
“We are at an inflection point in our efforts to develop cures for cancer and related diseases. In that context, the proposed cuts are indefensible and would severely impede our progress,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which receives more NIH grants than any other cancer research center in the U.S. “Patient lives are at stake.”
On the other hand, Trump’s budget calls for big increases in spending on substance abuse treatment facilities, including $500 million to “expand opioid misuse prevention efforts.” Trump talked a lot about addiction on the campaign trail, and the budget notes that 33,000 Americans died because of opiate addition in 2015.
Military base cities, cyber-warriors, veterans, to benefit
Trump’s budget calls for a huge increase in defense spending, with general guidance suggesting cities and companies that support nearly every branch of the military would benefit. The budget calls for fresh spending on munitions, warships, F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and a “fully equipped” Marine Corps. It also calls for large investments in cybersecurity, which appears under several budget items, including a $1.5 billion program within the Department of Homeland Security to “protect federal networks and critical infrastructure from an attack.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs also gets a sizable budget bump of 6 percent, including $4.6 billion to improve VA health care and “patient access and timeliness of medical care.” The funds will help continue the Veterans Choice program, which lets vets choose private providers when seeking care.
Out of work? Less money for retraining
Out-of-work Americans, particularly older Americans, who seek retraining help may have a harder time under Trump’s budget. The Labor Department, which funds many such programs, is targeted with a 21 percent cut. Federal funding for local job training programs would be decreased, “shifting more responsibility” to local authorities. Specifically, Trump’s budget eliminates the $434 million Senior Community Service Employment Program, a community service and work-based job training program for older Americans that prioritizes help to veterans. Trump’s budget specifically calls out the program as “ineffective,” saying as many as one-third of participants fail to complete it, and only half of those get jobs.
School choice up, after-school programs down
For fans for charter schools and other open enrollment public school initiatives, Trump’s budget includes a lot of new money and support. There’s $250 million for a new school choice program, $168 million more for charter schools, and $1 billion more for voucher-style programs that let local funding “follow the student to the public school or his or her choice.”
Trump’s budget eliminates $1.2 billion spent on 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which funds after school and summer programs for 1.6 million kids around the country. The budget says the program “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives.”
What about Elmo?
No, Trump’s budget probably won’t mean the end of Sesame Street, at least not right away. But it does call for elimination of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for Humanities. Many PBS TV stations (and National Public Radio state) get significant funding from private sources, so they wouldn’t be knocked off the air by this. But many programs, art exhibits, and other cultural initiatives would disappear. Smaller PBS stations would be particularly hard hit. They often use their federal funding to pay for the right to air popular shows like All Things Considered. If rural stations stop paying for such programs, there could be a domino effect. Still, it’s important to note that many public broadcasters are nearly self-sufficient (For example, North Carolina’s PBS station gets 7 percent of its budget from federal funding.)
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