House Budget Seeks Cuts and Changes to Low Income Programs that Work

By Helly Lee

Last week, the House Budget Committee released their proposed budget plan for federal fiscal year 2017. It aims to reduce the national deficit by $7 trillion over the next 10 years through a combination of spending cuts ($6.5 trillion) and projected economic growth, while bringing in no new revenue. The budget proposes an $877 billion cut in federal non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending over the next decade. It would accomplish this by freezing NDD at $472 billion over the next nine years—significantly lower than the $516 billion FY 2017 cap set by last year’s Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA). The budget also calls for billions of dollars of cuts to mandatory programs, with the deepest cuts to programs affecting low-income families.

Under the proposed budget plan, legislators seek to balance the budget on the backs of low-income Americans by cutting into critical programs that actually work to address poverty such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). CBPP reports that the House Budget Committee-approved plan would cut SNAP by more than $150 billion over the next ten years, ending food assistance for millions of low-income families. In addition, it seeks to block grant  SNAP, not only scaling back eligibility and reducing benefits, but also taking away the flexibility of the program to respond to the needs of families by expanding during times of economic downturn, and retracting as the economy recovers.

Some of the cuts included in the House Budget are already being moved as independent bills; the House Ways and Means Committee has cleared  H.R. 4722, which requires tax payers to use social security numbers when they claim the refundable portion of the CTC. This is yet another attempt to bring up a policy that would harm up to 4.5 million U.S. citizen children.  Under current law, low-wage, working parents who file taxes with an Individual Tax ID Number (ITIN) rather than a Social Security number, qualify for the CTC. Proponents claim that restricting CTC to only those who file with a Social Security number prevents fraud, but that claim is misguided. It would actually deny the benefits of the CTC to eligible, low-income working immigrant families, the vast majority of whom have U.S. citizen children. Other bills that have passed House committees would eliminate the Social Services Block Grant, and slash support for Medicaid and CHIP.

Both SNAP and the CTC, along with other critical safety net programs work to help low-income families make ends meet and lift millions of families out of poverty. Instead of proposing deep cuts and drastic changes to them, Congress should be working to protect and strengthen these programs.