States Can’t Survive Trump’s Budget—and Americans Will Pay for It

By Olivia Golden

The deeply damaging federal budget Congress will consider soon after returning from recess threatens both families and communities by making cuts to crucial federal programs and a sharp retrenchment in funding to states.

That’s a double hit on children, families, working people, students and seniors because when states—which must balance their budgets—face destabilizing federal cuts, they reduce core investments in such programs as K-12 education, child care, community and four-year colleges, as well as health, mental health, and social services.

In my experience developing budgets and operating human services programs in Massachusetts, New York and D.C., I never dealt with federal cuts of this magnitude. But even in less-dire times, I saw how federal funding can galvanize state commitment to low-income people or throw state budgets and policy commitments into a tailspin, forcing across-the-board cuts.

As Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, commented on President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget, a federal cut to state programs is “cumulative, hitting vulnerable children over and over again.”

Legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and gut Medicaid threatened such a tailspin. The defeat of this legislative effort—at least for now—was both a huge win for millions of people and a lifesaver for state budgets.

The proposals would have cut state funding by hundreds of billions of dollars, forcing them to choose between slashing healthcare and devastating other parts of their budgets, such as higher education, to avoid the worst healthcare impacts. That’s why so many people—from those in higher education to early childhood, as well as state elected officials of both parties—understood their stake and rallied to defeat the repeal efforts.

The same is true for the devastating Congressional budget proposals. They would harm a wide array of Americans through deep cuts, ranging from food assistance to Pell grants and college work-study programs. At the same time, these proposals would throw state budgets into turmoil through cascading cuts that would affect nearly everyone. The lesson from the healthcare fight is that because of this cascade effect, no programs are safe just because they aren’t explicitly targeted — and neither are the people who need those programs.

Let’s break down the specific threats.

The House Budget Committee has already approved a 10-year budget blueprint—expected to be considered by the full House in September—that slashes important programs like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Some lawmakers claim this would "empower states." But it only empowers them to determine whose services to cut off in the face of billions in federal cuts.

On the “non-defense discretionary” side, funding by 2027 would be a remarkable 44 percent below 2010 (adjusted for inflation). That means low-income Americans would lose a lifeline wherever Congress cuts dollars directly—from Head Start, after-school programs, youth programs, workforce training resources, etc.—and again where states eliminate programs or shift funds to fill budget holes. These cuts would free up money to slash taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations. 

Also deeply dangerous is the 2018 fiscal appropriations process that must move forward regardless of Congress passing a budget plan, since current spending bills expire on September 30.

The House Appropriations Committee proposal would cut key labor, human services, health and education programs by $5 billion below the 2017 baseline, already sharply down from previous years. Especially hard-hit are Pell grants, job training and employment services as well as refugee programs, among others. All of that is on top of 10-year declines of nearly 40 percent in workforce development programs and 32 percent in career and technical education. With such cuts, states must shrink or eliminate services or absorb the cuts across other programs.

These proposals back-pedal from the federal commitment to families and break faith with state governments, while also doubling down on failed approaches to incarceration, creating a deportation force and building a wall on the Mexican border.

At a time when core American values are at risk from presidential statements that comfort racists and demean Americans of color, immigrants, Muslims, Jews and others, the budget may seem a dry and technical issue. But budgets are, above all, a statement of our nation’s values.

We must all fight proposals to gut the core federal and state programs that help ordinary Americans afford healthcare, work their way through college, feed their families and help their children thrive. These cuts would fundamentally attack the vision of a society where people’s status in life shouldn’t depend on who their parents are.

Olivia Golden is the executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy, CLASP. Previously, Golden has served as assistant secretary for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, director of the D.C. Children and Family Services Agency, New York's Director of State Operations, and in research and advocacy roles. 


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