Trump’s Budget Doubles Down on Harm to People with Low Incomes, Communities of Color, and Immigrants

By Hannah Matthews

For the fourth consecutive year, President Trump has released a budget proposal that demonstrates the administration’s contempt for individuals with low incomes, immigrant communities, and communities of color. As in past years, the proposed Trump FY 2021 budget would slash billions of dollars in spending on education, health, nutrition, housing, and other basic needs that support economic stability and good health and wellbeing for children and families. These massive cuts are proposed alongside a plan to extend Trump’s 2017 tax cuts that have driven up the deficit while benefiting the very rich and large corporations and that are contributing to growing income equality.

The budget also proposes increased spending that will inflict fear, trauma, and harm on communities across the nation. The budget would fund more immigration agents—even as the administration’s policies are terrorizing children in immigrant families and devastating communities—and spend billions of dollars on a divisive border wall. Even while the budget funds steps toward criminal justice reform, it simultaneously calls for increased law enforcement, which negatively impacts communities of color and leads to their overcriminalization—both historically and currently.

The administration’s priorities are misguided, cruel, and deeply harmful to our country’s future. The budget proposal would create and exacerbate hardship for America’s workers and families; increase poverty, including among children; worsen racial and ethnic disparities; and risk the nation’s future.

We should be deeply concerned about these proposals—even though the budget itself is unlikely to be adopted in its current form by Congress—because the past couple of years demonstrate that the administration will try repeated and lawless end runs around Congress to achieve the goals set out in its budget proposal. For example, past budgets have similarly proposed massive cuts to Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the form of structural changes that would restrict access and eligibility. When Congress rejected the administration’s proposed legislative plans—keeping the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in place and passing a Farm Bill with SNAP intact—the administration pursued similar goals through executive actions. In the time since the very first Trump budget, his administration has approved so-called “work requirements” for Medicaid (that are now being challenged in court); filed suit in court to take down the ACA; finalized, subject to ongoing litigation, the “public charge” rule that makes it harder for low-income immigrants to obtain lawful permanent status and will deter large numbers of immigrant families from accessing benefits; finalized, subject to expected litigation, a harmful SNAP rule that will take nutrition assistance away from over 700,000 people struggling to find or sustain work; and proposed countless other attacks on basic needs programs and immigrant families through the regulatory process.

It is therefore important to see the president’s budget as an authentic roadmap for the administration’s priorities, whether they will be pursued through the budget process or other means.

Additional Cuts Would Harm Children, Youth, and Adults in Households with Low Incomes

Even as the president’s reckless attacks on immigrants, people of color, and people with low incomes are already harming individuals and communities, the FY 21 budget proposal offers a plan to go further. It doubles down on the playbook from past budgets with proposals to cut, eliminate, or restructure programs across federal agencies.

It also walks away from a bipartisan budget deal agreed to by Congress and the president in July in order to cut human needs programs ever deeper. That budget agreement established overall spending levels for FY 21 defense and non-defense discretionary (NDD) funding, the portion of the federal budget that funds a range of programs from education to infrastructure to environmental protection to human needs programs. But the president’s budget proposes cutting funding levels for these critical human needs programs by $51 billion below the level already agreed to, with cuts growing dramatically deeper in future years.

Cuts to health and nutrition. As in past budgets, the administration proposes sweeping cuts to Medicaid and SNAP, which would cause millions of individuals to lose health coverage and nutrition assistance. Multiple attacks on health insurance coverage have already reversed a decades-long trend, resulting in over 400,000 fewer children covered in 2018 as compared to 2016. The budget proposal would cut or eliminate large numbers of programs that help individuals and families with low incomes meet basic needs—including the Social Services Block Grant, the Community Services Block Grant, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. States would be granted enormous flexibility to “streamline” programs, which is code for reducing eligibility and radically shrinking the availability of economic and other supports for families. It would also impose work requirements across safety net programs. While many income and work support programs already include a component to increase the employment and earnings of participants, evidence proves that imposing harsh work requirements frequently leads to a loss of benefits, and as a consequence, makes it harder for individuals to work. For example, more than 18,000 Arkansas residents lost their health insurance due to work-reporting requirements in just six months before the courts forced the state to stop disenrolling Arkansans, even though the vast majority were either working or should have been exempt under the state’s rules. This is similar to what has occurred under existing TANF and SNAP work requirements. This approach reflects a profound misunderstanding of the realities of low-wage jobs and creates unnecessary burdens on low-wage workers and state governments.

Cuts to education, training, and workforce development. The president’s budget undermines the economic security of individuals with low incomes, including college students and workers, by proposing to slash, eliminate, and consolidate vital federal student aid and workforce development programs. The misguided budget proposes to eliminate critical grant programs that make college more affordable and accessible to students with low incomes and slashes federal-work study by more than half. While the administration proposes key investment in workforce development programs such as apprenticeships and career and technical education, it does so at the expense of quality services. Eliminating workforce training programs targeted to specific populations, such as Native Americans, migrant and seasonal farmworkers, and older Americans, will make it more difficult for these communities to receive workforce training services. Additionally, the expansion of the administration’s industry-recognized apprenticeships does not align with the existing Registered Apprenticeship program that ensures quality and protects participants.

Child Care and Paid Leave Proposals Barely Pay Lip Service to Working Families’ Needs

Even as the Trump budget proposes to undermine the very foundations of what children and families need to thrive, the administration claims to be champions of working families. The administration is proposing the same flawed parental leave program that we’ve seen in prior budgets—pitting working families in need of paid leave against unemployed workers—by requiring states to set up these parental leave programs with broad flexibility to use funds from their already-stressed unemployment insurance (UI) system to pay for them. Not only will this approach threaten the economic security of people in households with low incomes, it also leaves out millions of people who have caregiving responsibilities or are recovering from illness themselves by only covering parental leave. The proposal would also be unlikely to benefit low-wage workers since UI benefits are quite low, and many low-income workers may not be able to afford to take leave when the benefit level doesn’t cover their already-low wages.

Similarly, the budget’s child care plan is less than meets the eye. The budget proposes an increase of $1 billion over five years to build the supply of child care and stimulate ‘employer investments in child care’. This proposal—a mere fraction of the level of investment Congress recently added to the Child Care and Development Block Grant—would do nothing to address the majority of eligible families with low incomes who do not receive child care assistance. The budget also doesn’t address the critical need to improve the quality of child care and increase compensation for the child care workforce. Employers and employer-provided child care cannot make up for the lack of adequate public investment in high-quality, affordable child care across the country. Moreover, while the Trump Administration claims to “invest” in child care, the budget proposal flat funds Head Start—which serves approximately half of eligible poor preschool-aged children—and proposes cuts to or elimination of several other child care programs, including funding for school-age child care.

Funds that Fuel Family Separation

Having raided defense department accounts for funds to build the divisive border wall, President Trump is making a smaller request than in past years—though still proposing to squander billions of dollars on wall construction. The budget proposes hiring more than 4,600 ICE agents as well as funding for a historic high of 60,000 detention beds to continue to ramp up immigration enforcement actions that threaten the safety of immigrant families. More than 5 million children live in mixed-status families in which at least one family member is undocumented, and millions more live with a noncitizen parent. The Trump Administration’s immigration policies—from indiscriminate enforcement to increased deportations to efforts to strip legal protections from groups of immigrants—have made many more children growing up in the United States vulnerable to being separated from their parents.

The Trump Budget is Not the Path Forward for Country

The president’s budget proposal is the first step in the development of the federal budget, after which the process moves to Congress. Members of Congress should reject Trump’s vision for America and demonstrate their commitment to critical programs that support Americans on a pathway toward economic stability. Further, lawmakers should use their oversight authority to deter the administration from going around Congress by pursuing damage to programs using regulatory and administrative actions.

The roadmap laid out in the administration’s budget proposal is not a viable path forward. Instead, we need a federal budget that invests in America’s future. We need investments that reduce poverty, promote economic opportunity, and reduce racial and ethnic disparities. Robust public investments in high-quality child care, postsecondary education and skills training for youth and adults, comprehensive paid family and medical leave, nutrition assistance, and health care coverage put low-income individuals and their families on a pathway toward economic security.