If you’re a poor person in America, President Donald Trump’s budget proposal is not for you.
Trump has unveiled a budget that would slash or abolish programmes that have provided low-income Americans with help on virtually all fronts, including affordable housing, banking, weatherising homes, job training, paying home heating oil bills, and obtaining legal counsel in civil matters.
During the presidential campaign last year, Trump vowed that the solution to poverty was giving poor people incentives to work. But most of the proposed cuts in his budget target programmes designed to help the working poor, as well as those who are jobless, cope.
And many of them carry out their missions by disbursing money to the states, which establish their own criteria.
“This is a budget that pulled the rug out from working families and hurts the very people who President Trump promised to stand up for in rural America and in small towns,” said Melissa Boteach, vice president of the poverty to prosperity programme at the Centre for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington.
The White House budget cuts will fall hardest on the rural and small town communities that Trump won, where one in three people are living paycheck to paycheck — a rate that is 24pc higher than in urban counties, according to a new analysis by the centre.
The budget proposes housing ‘reforms’ that add up to more than $6bn in cuts while promising to continue assisting the nation’s 4.5m low-income households. If enacted, the proposed budget would result in the most severe cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development since the early 1980s, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Trump has unveiled a budget that would slash or abolish programmes that have provided low-income Americans with help on virtually all fronts
It would also eliminate the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the federal response to homelessness across 19 federal agencies.
The administration’s reforms include eliminating funding for a $3bn Community Development Block Grant programme, one of the longest continuously run HUD programmes that’s been in existence since 1974.
The programme provides cities with money to address a range of community development needs such as affordable housing, rehabilitating homes in neighbourhoods hardest hit by foreclosures, and preventing or eliminating slums and community blight. It also provides funding for Meals on Wheels, a national non-profit that delivers food to homebound seniors.
The White House touts its cuts to what the administration characterises as ‘a number of lower priority programmes’ as a way to ‘promote fiscal responsibility.’ In actuality, it guts federal funding for affordable housing and kicks the financial responsibility of those programmes to states and local governments.
Gone would be $35m in funding for well-known programmes such as Habitat for Humanity and YouthBuild USA, fair housing planning, and homeless assistance, among other housing help for needy Americans.
Other targets include funding for neighbourhood development and a home-buying programme through which low-income individuals help build their own homes. Trump also plans to cut the Home Investment Partnership Programme, the largest federal grant to state and local governments that is designed to create affordable housing.
“There is no coordinated plan for how to fulfil the same mission. Saying states, local governments and philanthropy are going to help is just passing the buck,” said a HUD official who is not authorised to speak to the media.
The official said workers at the agency last Thursday morning were feeling ‘demoralised’ and ‘worried.’
“This is just a tough, tough time,” the official said. “HUD is no different than any other domestic agency in just feeling as though these cuts are all very arbitrary and unnecessary.”
Poor people need not lean on community banks for financial help either, because Trump plans to eliminate the $210m now dedicated towards Community Development Financial Institutions. The programmeme, administered through the Treasury Department, invests in community banks that provide loans and financial services to people living in some of the most distressed communities of the country.
“Cutting that programme would be nothing short of a disaster and the ripple effect would be felt in urban areas and some rural areas all over America,” said Michael A. Grant, president of the National Bankers Association, a lobbying group for black-owned banks.
The administration would also eliminate the Energy Department’s weatherisation assistance programme, which dates back to 1976 when Gerald Ford was president. Since then, it has given grants to states that have helped insulate the homes of about 7m families with low-cost techniques that have large payoffs, saving money for those families and curtailing US energy consumption. It has also helped establish weatherisation job training centres in states such as Utah and New York.
Also on the chopping block: the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Programme, known widely by its acronym LIHEAP. This programme, part of the Health and Human Services budget, helps homeowners cover monthly energy costs, or repair broken or inefficient furnaces and air conditioners. The programme is usually underfunded; LIHEAP says that on average, only about 20pc of the households that qualify for assistance receive benefits before the money run out. Congress sometimes adds funding during emergencies or energy shortages when costs spike.
Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the Community Services Block Grant, a $715m programme within HHS that funds more than 1,000 local anti-poverty organisations around the country. The organisations provide services ranging from job training to food assistance to more than 16m people in 3,000 counties. The grants also help communities respond quickly to natural disasters, plant closures and other economic shifts.
Without the grants, there would be little coordination between faith groups, local governments, private companies and nonprofits in addressing the needs of the poor — “just a few unconnected programmes that don’t have nearly the impact they have now,” said David Bradley, who founded the National Community Action Foundation and wrote the legislation behind the grants in the early ‘80s.
Bradley, though, is ‘absolutely confident’ that Congress will reject the proposal.
“This is the work of a radical right that goes hard after anti-poverty programmes,” he said.
The Washington Post’s Jonnelle Marte and Caitlin Dewey contributed to this article.
The Washington Post Service
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, March 20th, 2017