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How Trump's budget would cut the safety net for the poorest Americans

Harvey, Illinois, is a depressed suburb of Chicago that was hit hard by the sluggish economy. The president is also proposing work requirements for several federal programs including housing subsidies and Medicaid.
Harvey, Illinois, is a depressed suburb of Chicago that was hit hard by the sluggish economy. The president is also proposing work requirements for several federal programs including housing subsidies and Medicaid. Photograph: Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s budget proposal, unveiled on Monday, revived his calls for big cuts to domestic programs that benefit the poor and middle class, such as food stamps, as well as plans to entirely eliminate several arts and earth sciences funding.

The president, who is looking for large increases in military spending, is also proposing work requirements for several federal programs including housing subsidies and Medicaid. The budget plan won’t be taken up by Congress unchanged but is being seen as the latest snapshot of his priorities.

Democrats swiftly criticized the plan. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said: “The Trump budget proposal makes clear his desire to enact massive cuts to health care, anti-poverty programs and investments in economic growth to blunt the deficit-exploding impact of his tax cuts for millionaires and corporations.”

Trump’s plan involves a 2019 deficit of $984bn, though White House budget director Mick Mulvaney has admitted $1.2tn is a more plausible estimate. The plan is estimated to add $7tn to the national deficit. On Tuesday, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, told Congress the ballooning deficit was one of the gravest threats facing US national and economic security.

Many of the Trump administration’s proposals stand no chance of passage in Congress, where lawmakers have already defied him over last year’s budget. But the plans signal his intent for the direction of the US.

Tax cuts and debt

Critics have pointed to Kansas as an example of what can happen when you slash taxes, regulations and services in an attempt to spur growth. Kansas has gone all but broke after years of such tax and service cuts, its school system has run out of funding, lawmakers have cut into university and healthcare funds; and the state’s credit rating downgraded. Since the governor promised 100,000 jobs in 2014, the state added little more than 10,000 private-sector jobs, with hiring at 0.4% in 2017.

When the state enacted tax increases last year, with Republicans joining Democrats to override the governor’s veto, one Kansan reflected: “It just didn’t work. This was a terrible experiment that has left our state unable to do what it is supposed to do.”

Read more: Kansas’s ravaged economy a cautionary tale as Trump plans huge tax cuts for rich

Food stamps

The Trump administration has proposed a plan to replace the US food stamp program, called Snap, with an “America’s Harvest Box” shipped to families’ doors, including canned fruits, beans and meats, cereal, peanut butter, shelf-stable milk and other dry goods.

As of February last year, about 42 million Americans received food stamp assistance, which cost almost $71bn over the course of 2016. Nearly three-quarters of all recipient families have children, and more than a quarter include seniors or people with disabilities. The Trump proposal appears to have no provisions for allergies, problems with the mail, families without a steady address, homeless families, animal incursions into the box, shipping costs, or the question of fresh fruit and produce.

Read more: Food stamps a lifeline for America’s poor Trump wants to cut

Healthcare cuts

In 2016, some 73 million Americans relied on Medicaid, a program that also finances half of all births around the country. An additional 43 million rely on Medicare, a program for the elderly that amounts to 15% of federal spending. The programs helps the poor and elderly pay for basic services such as asthma medicine; critical procedures such as surgery; and medication for mental health conditions, such as depression. The US spends more on healthcare than an other OECD country, without as high a level of treatment, according to a 2003 paper.

The Trump administration has proposed major cuts to Medicaid, and called for discussion of changes to Medicare but does not specify the changes. The plan would put a greater burden on states to pay for healthcare costs, and it calls on Congress to create new rules that let states opt out of providing some benefits.

Read more: Trump supporters in the heartland fear being left behind by GOP health plan

Housing subsidies

Under the proposed budget, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would take a 14% cut, even more than the Trump administration requested last year. The plan would eliminate a $2bn fund for housing repairs, even though public housing is already in need of some $40bn in repairs – heating and water outages, ventilation and water safety, etc – according to the Washington Post.

The cuts to housing aid would affect hundreds of thousands of Americans, if not millions, stretching from California’s major cities through the deep south, Appalachia, across the rural heartland and up through New England.

Read more: A journey through America with the UN’s expert on poverty

Meals on wheels

The Trump administration has again called for cuts to a program that delivers meals to senior citizens and disabled people, as it did last year. Reporter Jamiles Lartey, who has volunteered with the program, wrote then that it would be a “disaster” for the country’s most vulnerable.

For many seniors these deliveries were the only social interaction they would have some days, and the only check on their wellness anyone would make. I fear, for some, it was likely their only proper meal as well.

Most days, it was senior volunteers delivering the meals. They routinely told me it gave them a sense of purpose and they liked helping other people in their generation. One gentleman I volunteered with, a retired teacher and recent widower, told me the program was one of the first things to get him out of the house after his wife had passed.

The programs don’t cost much, and cost even less to the federal government. That’s because the contours of the Community Development Block Grant, which partially funds meals on wheels and has been slated for defunding by Trump, were designed by conservatives.

Read more: Is Meals on Wheels about to become a fatality of Trump’s budget?

This article titled "How Trump's budget would cut the safety net for the poorest Americans" was written by Guardian staff, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 13 February 2018 06.44pm

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