The President’s Budget Fails to Support Economic Security for Students and Workers with Low Incomes

The Trump Administration’s proposed FY 2021 budget brings back into focus just who has been losing out under this administration, including people with low incomes, immigrant communities, and communities of color. The president’s budget would undermine the economic security of individuals with low incomes, including students and workers, by proposing to slash, cut, and/or eliminate critical federal student aid and workforce development programs.

The post-recession recovery has been disproportionately severe and uneven for individuals with low incomes, particularly people of color. While this administration touts “record low unemployment,” the tragic reality for many is that the economy is still not working for everyone. Researchers at Georgetown University estimate that 99 percent of jobs during the recovery have gone to workers with some college education. To make matters worse, housing prices continue to rise while wages stagnate. Many individuals with low incomes find themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty and are struggling to cover the cost of their basic needs.

A high-quality postsecondary credential can lead to family-sustaining economic mobility, including high-wage jobs with benefits. Students from households with low incomes are five times more likely to move out of poverty if they’ve earned a college degree. Yet the soaring cost of tuition, housing, child care, food, textbooks, transportation, and other basic living expenses, has made higher education less attainable for millions of students. Students of color, who comprise over 45 percent of undergraduate students, struggle to afford and complete a postsecondary education. For instance, African American students graduate with the highest amount of indebtedness, the lowest levels of attainment, and are employed at jobs with lower salary and benefits than their peers.

The higher education programs proposed for elimination in the president’s budget include the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR-UP), the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), and Subsidized Stafford loans. This misguided budget slashes the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program by more than 70 percent and Federal Work-Study by $680 million, which would result in those programs serving fewer than half of the students they did in 2020. The budget also freezes the maximum Pell Grant award. These targeted programs reach students in the lowest income brackets and support their journey into higher education and professional development. Eliminating these programs and reducing the funding for others would remove support for struggling borrowers and make college less accessible, affordable, and attainable.

Through a series of “consolidated grants,” the president’s budget would achieve the administration’s dangerous vision of less federal support for higher education. These grants consolidate separate funding streams, and, essentially, reduce their overall funding levels. For example, TRIO programs for student development and career support, as well as the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) would be incorporated into one block grant, with $140 million less in funding.

Under the President’s proposed budget, the High School Equivalency Program (HEP) would also be consolidated into a new Elementary and Secondary Education for Disadvantaged Block Grant. HEP – CAMP programs have existed since 1967 and 1972 respectively and have helped students from migrant and seasonal and farmworker families earn their high school diploma and access and succeed in college. We are concerned that disinvestment and program consolidations of TRIO and HEP-CAMP programs would deny vital college readiness and postsecondary education opportunities to students of color, students with low incomes, and youth of migrant and seasonal farmworker families.

Similarly, the president’s budget proposes to eliminate or slash funding for critical workforce development programs. Since 2001, Congress has cut funding for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) by 40 percent. By eliminating Indian and Native Americans Programs, Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers, and the Community Service Employment for Older Americans programs, the president’s budget would make it more difficult for marginalized communities and older Americans to access high-quality job training programs and the services they need to succeed in the workforce.

We find the proposed expansion of the administration’s industry-recognized apprenticeships quite troubling. This parallel apprenticeship program lacks the standards of quality and protections of the existing Registered Apprenticeship program – a workforce development strategy that has demonstrated the strongest economic gains for participants for decades. Congress can and must reinvest in high-quality employment pathways for youth and adults with low incomes, especially marginalized populations that face the greatest obstacles in the economy.

Rather than slashing or consolidating federal programs designed to help students and workers with low incomes succeed in the workforce, economy, and beyond, this budget should work to expand college affordability and increase access to high-quality job training programs and employment opportunities for people with low incomes. Because this budget is a deliberate exclusion of marginalized youth and adults in America, Congress should reject the Trump budget and, instead, adequately fund federal student aid and workforce development programs to boost students and workers onto a path of economic and financial security and mobility.