Trump budget proposal would cut federal programs for poor
March 20, 2017 12:00 AM
Advocates for the poor say President Donald Trumps budget proposal would cut too deeply into federal anti-poverty programs.
By Kate Giammarise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
From funding for affordable housing, to money for heating assistance, to legal help for the poor, President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget aims to cut or eliminate a host of anti-poverty programs, many of which have existed for decades.
“This budget is a complete attack on poor people,” said Rochelle Jackson, public policy advocate at anti-hunger group Just Harvest. “There’s no other way to explain it.”
The budget blueprint released by the Office of Management and Budget last week proposes to end the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as LIHEAP, which provides assistance with heating bills.
In Pennsylvania, LIHEAP has an allocated budget of $152 million for the 2016-2017 winter season, according to the state Department of Human Services. About 345,000 Pennsylvanians are served by the program annually, according to state statistics.
The program provides payment directly to utility companies on behalf of those who are unable to pay their heating bills.
“LIHEAP is a lower-impact program and is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes,” the budget outline from the Trump administration released last week says.
“Without it, we really fear utility termination rates will skyrocket,” and people could resort to using unsafe sources to heat their homes, which could lead to fires, said Maripat Pileggi, a staff attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
Mariana Chilton, a professor at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, said that in addition to helping people pay their energy bills, LIHEAP has demonstrable public health benefits in the health and cognitive development of young children.
“We see this in the bodies and brains of little kids,” she said.
In the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Trump administration proposes to eliminates funding for the Community Development Block Grant program.
Pittsburgh anticipates receiving about $12.5 million in block grant funds in 2017, according to city budget documents. The money funds everything from staffing and programming at the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority to direct grants to groups such as Brookline Meals on Wheels.
“The impact of the budget cuts being proposed by the Trump administration would be a disaster for Pittsburgh and the Mayor’s efforts to pursue neighborhood-driven and equitable community development,” said a statement from Kevin Acklin, chief of staff for Mayor Bill Peduto.
Mr. Trump’s budget documents state the federal government has spent more than $150 billion on the block grant program since its inception in 1974, “but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.”
Overall, the budget proposal would decrease HUD funding by $6.2 billion — a 13.2 percent decrease.
“If enacted, Trump’s proposed budget would result in the most severe cut to HUD since President [Ronald] Reagan dramatically reduced funding in the early 1980s,” Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement that accused Mr. Trump of “working to make America homeless again.”
The president’s budget outline says the proposal for HUD’s cuts “recognizes a greater role for [s]tate and local governments and the private sector to address community and economic development needs.”
Among the HUD programs the budget proposes to completely eliminate is the Choice Neighborhoods program, which is funding a $30 million project in Larimer, as well as a $500,000 planning grant in the Hill District and Bedford Dwellings public housing complex.
A spokeswoman from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh declined to comment.
The cuts would add to an already tough environment for those least able to afford housing, Allegheny County Housing Authority officials said.
“Housing authorities have been underfunded for years,” said Richard Stephenson, chief financial officer for the agency, noting that deep cuts would make it difficult for the organization to maintain its existing housing and to run the Section 8 voucher program.
Mr. Trump’s budget also proposes to completely eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, which provides funding to local organizations that give legal aid to the poor in civil cases, such as those involving domestic violence protection-from-abuse orders, child custody issues, evictions and access to public benefits.
The Legal Services Corporation was created in 1974 and was signed into law by then-President Richard Nixon.
A statement on the group’s website said it was confident it would continue to enjoy bipartisan support as legal aid programs “help veterans secure the benefits they have earned, assist domestic violence victims in obtaining protection orders against abusers, protect seniors from consumer scams, and help disaster survivors get back on their feet.”
Past budget proposals during the Reagan presidency sought the elimination of legal services, but Congress preserved those services, said Robert Racunas, Neighborhood Legal Services Association’s executive director. The organization also survived an attempt to eliminate it in the 1990s, although it was subject to funding reductions and restrictions.
Mr. Trump said in a statement that the core of the budget blueprint “is the rebuilding of our [n]ation’s military” without adding to the deficit. His budget increases defense spending by $54 billion in 2018, offset by reductions elsewhere, Mr. Trump said.
Congress would still need to approve his proposals before they would be enacted.
“We may be able to salvage these programs, but that fact that he would even put this in his proposal is very disheartening,” Just Harvest’s Ms. Jackson said.
Kate Giammarise: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.
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