President Trump’s budget blueprint and his broken promise to revive the American dream
Editor’s note: This post was written by Leo Nguyen, CHN’s Spring semester student intern.
On July 11th, 2015, at a rally in Phoenix, Candidate Trump proclaimed, “The American Dream is dead, but I am going to make it bigger, stronger, and better than ever before.” On March 16, President Trump released the America First “skinny budget,” in which many of his campaign promises, as well as his pledge to revive the American Dream, were either broken, contradicted, or compromised.
The President’s budget faced heavy backlash from the advocacy community when many organizations, including CHN, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the National Employment Law Project, the Center for Budget and Public Priorities, the National Education Association, the Campaign for Home Energy Assistance and many more members in the community came out with statements that heavily condemned or raised deep concerns regarding the President’s priorities. The Washington Post put together an infographic (below) to show the deep and devastating cuts that the budget request proposes:
As anticipated, the Pentagon, Veteran Affairs, and Homeland Security departments are the only three departments that will benefit from this budget; all others are cut. The blueprint is the product of Trump’s vision for America; a vision where the rhetoric of anti-immigration and pro-military triumphs. Dollars and cents are real numbers, and numbers can’t lie. If the government wants to spend more on something without increasing the deficit, it either has to raise revenue or cut other spending. Well, in Trump’s “swamped” cabinet, the idea of raising taxes is a nonstarter. That leaves the government with the other alternative – to cut spending.
However, the price for cutting spending is extremely high. Many programs and agencies were proposed to be cut. In my opinion, these three department/agency cuts are among the most damaging.
In Trump’s budget, first they came after the scientist, by slashing 31% of EPA’s funding and a fifth of its workforce. According the Washington Post, more than 50 programs would be eliminated altogether, including Energy Star grants that help states and cities fight air pollution, cleanup efforts in the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes, and the agency’s many scientific research initiatives. Low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards and need help from the federal government to address environmental health problems, both in the form of funding and regulatory oversight of private and public sector entities.
Then they came for the poor, the homeless, and the hungry. The budget also cuts more than $6 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and entirely eliminates one of HUD’s longest-running programs, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Without the CDBG, which has already suffered a 63% decrease in value since its creation in 1982, state and local governments would lose critical federal funding to support projects that aim to improve housing conditions, residential rehabilitation, economic development, physical community revitalization, and natural disaster recovery in low income neighborhoods. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney also said that CDBG is among many “programs that don’t work” (Washington Post, White House); this is simply not true. In a 2014 bipartisan resolution (H. RES. 668) marking the 40th anniversary of the CDBG, the resolution noted that between 2005 and 2013, the program created or maintained 330,500 jobs and provided services to over 100 million Americans.
In addition to HUD, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also faces up to a $15.1 billion cut; programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) are slated for elimination. LIHEAP provides basic heating and cooling assistance to low-income households in the United States – many of which include elderly, infants, individuals with disabilities, and/or U.S. veterans. The funding for this program has been cut by nearly 40% since 2010, counting inflation, and only 19% of eligible households were served in the recent years. If LIHEAP was terminated, low-income households and families who suffer short-term financial difficulties could potentially go broke for heating their homes. Adding to the problem, the budget would terminate weatherization assistance, which helps low-income households improve their home energy efficiency. While LIHEAP and weatherization keep people’s homes warm, CSBG funding supports community action agencies that fight poverty in communities, addresses the needs of low-income individuals, and provides services and activities addressing employment, education, personal finance, housing, nutrition, and emergency services. Therefore, cutting these vital programs could lead to devastating results.
Finally, they came for the teachers and low-income students. The Education Department faces a nearly 14% cut that would slash or wipe out grants for teacher training, afterschool and summer programs, and programs for first-generation and low-income students, and would reduce federal work-study aid to college students. However, with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ vision to undermine the public school system, the budget proposes to pump an unprecedented $1.4 billion in charter schools, private schools and other school-choice initiatives. This, to me, is perhaps the most troubling piece of this blueprint. The public school system is our nation’s greatest public institution. Only the public schools are there to serve all students, no matter their race, no matter their religion, no matter their educational attainment, social class, family income, special needs, or personal characteristics. Even though charter schools and private schools have contributed to many students’ success, undermining the public school system to promote other alternatives should never be the federal government’s priority.
Back to the idea of Trump’s great revival of the American Dream. Remarkable research done by Dr. Raj Chetty and his associates in the “Equality of Opportunity Project” suggests that the following five factors have a strong correlation with possible intergenerational upward mobility: residential income and racial integration (cities that are less segregated by income and race), income equality, family values, access to social capital, and a quality public school system. Many of these factors are compromised in Trump’s budget. Sustainable urban housing assistance, funding for programs to improve equal access to social capital for all, and quality public schools are proven to help increase upward social and economic mobility for America’s youth – a population in which 1 out of every 5 children is suffering from poverty. Slashing these programs encourages inequality, which is already deeply embedded in our society. Trump is not reviving the American Dream or bringing it back to life, as he promised.
Ultimately, Trump’s budget blueprint is still a proposal, and Congress will propose and potentially approve its own budget. Trump’s plan is causing division within the GOP itself; and the Democrats are vowing to fight tooth and nail against harmful cuts and for parity in defense and non-defense discretionary spending. Perhaps this proposal is another great trick that the President has within his “art-of-the-deal” expertise; maybe this budget is an overstatement, and negotiation within Congress will lead to a budget that pulls back to reality, just maybe. However, we all know for sure that this proposal is a product of a swamped cabinet and many ultra-right enthusiasts in the White House. Therefore, we – advocates for low-income and other vulnerable populations – need to stay vigilant and persistent in our fight, our resistance, our revolution. This fight doesn’t end when a budget is passed. It is a marathon, not a sprint.