Poor Excuse: Trump Budget Slashes Programs That Work Just Fine


March 17, 2017

So the first part of the Trump budget is out, and it is one of the clearest examples of upside-down priorities you’re likely to see. It cuts funds from programs serving our people – education, nutrition, housing, job training, legal services, afterschool care… – to add money for the Pentagon. And their excuse for making these cuts is that the domestic programs don’t work. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, was on MSNBC yesterday saying (I’m paraphrasing), can we continue to ask the coal miner in West Virginia or the single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? He was comfortable asking them to pay for the military, but not for afterschool programs, which he said don’t work. (The Trump budget eliminates the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a nearly $1.2 billion program that supports afterschool and summer programs for children.) He later held a press conference in which he specified that kids in afterschool programs are supposed to do better in school and go on to get better jobs, and there’s no evidence that happens. Leaving aside for a moment the issue of the educational outcomes for children in afterschool programs, there are a couple of other outcomes worth noting. One, when children are in afterschool programs their parents can work. Ask any parent who needs that coverage whether it’s important to them, and perhaps especially ask that single mother in Detroit. Two, the 21st Century programs are frequently sites providing meals and snacks after school and during the summer, an important supplement to poor children’s nutrition. Eliminating all these programs will produce two very bad outcomes: low-income working parents less able to stay at work for lack of child care, and children getting less food.
This is not the piece where we will go over evidence about educational outcomes from afterschool programs, although I invite people with research evidence to share it. But to say that these afterschool and summer programs have no outcomes worth investing in is false. We have to ask the Trump Administration if it agrees that making child care available for low-income families is a priority, and if so, how it could possibly help to eliminate funding for a program that provides it with no intention of replacing it with anything else.

That’s just one example. Mulvaney also claimed that the Meals on Wheels program for seniors didn’t work. We don’t know yet what they intend to do to the main senior nutrition program under HHS (funded at $835 million in FY 2016, even then 7.4 percent below FY 2010), but the budget would eliminate the Community Development Block Grant, a $3 billion HUD program giving localities flexibility to improve infrastructure or provide needed services, and some of Meals on Wheels funding comes from CDBG. Here, we’re indebted to Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post for an ironclad Wonkblog piece showing multiple good outcomes for Meals on Wheels. For one thing, the program supplies meals to 2.4 million seniors nationwide who are low-income and cannot get out to shop or to manage meal preparation. That alone is a very good outcome. But Ingraham’s piece documents evidence that home-delivered meals improve nutrition, help isolated elders have more contact with other people, and save federal money by allowing people to live at home instead of having to go to a nursing home.

In 2013, Congress could not come to a decent budget agreement and that triggered “sequestration” cuts. Meals on Wheels were cut 5 percent, and thousands of people did not receive meals as a consequence. In anticipating a potential 13 percent across the board cut before the Trump budget was released, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote a letter to colleagues estimating that such a cut applied to Meals on Wheels would result in a cut of 21 million meals next year. The Trump Administration has not released enough budget detail to know how much they would cut, but the poor excuse that the program doesn’t work is another falsehood. If Congress goes along, there will really be bad outcomes: seniors going without food and children and families deprived of child care and the nutrition kids need.

Oh, and about that military spending that Mulvaney is so comfortable telling the coal miners and single moms to pay for? The Defense Business Board, which advises the Pentagon, in 2015 wrote a report detailing $125 billion in waste that could be curtailed, and the Pentagon tried to bury the report. In particular, the new budget wants to speed up delivery of the F-35 striker jet, which has been plagued by flaws and in 2016 was costing $936,703 an hour.

CHN has a number of fact sheets on its website under Outcomes: Programs That Work for Human Needs. So far they cover child care, low-income tax credits, SNAP, Social Security Disability Insurance and SSI. We’ll need to put up more, since the Trump budget also would eliminate the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (home heating and cooling help), cut work-study for college students, eliminate the Community Services Block Grant (which funds the basic operations of the anti-poverty community action agencies), cut 200,000 rental housing vouchers, and reduce a variety of low-income education programs. Got evidence of your program’s good outcomes? Please share here, or send me an email at dweinstein@chn.org.

Budget and Appropriations
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child nutrition
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early childhood
Early Childhood Education
Education and Youth Policy
Food and Nutrition
Head Smacker
Housing and Homelessness
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
military spending
Poverty and Income
Social Security
Trump budget