Trump’s ‘Cruel’ Budget Eviscerates Resources for Vulnerable People

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Trump’s ‘Cruel’ Budget Eviscerates Resources for Vulnerable People

Christine Grimaldi

The president's budget blueprint contains audacious provisions to restrict people with low incomes from food and shelter while slashing resources for family planning.

President Trump’s budget blueprint amounts to an all-out assault on the survival of people with low incomes, people of color, and immigrants in the United States.

The so-called skinny budget offers a taste of what’s to come under Trump’s full budget proposal, expected in May. The budget proposal will guide congressional Republicans as they craft appropriations bills for various federal departments, agencies, and programs to operate in fiscal year 2018, which begins on October 1. Due to partisan gridlock, most have been operating under a continuing resolution—a stopgap measure to fund government operations and avoid a shutdown of those that haven’t received annual appropriations.

For now, the $1.15 trillion blueprint outlines top-line information on cuts to nearly all federal departments and agencies, with the notable exceptions of a $52 billion increase in defense spending and smaller boosts to the the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

At DHS, Trump wants to invest $2.6 billion in a border wall and spend $314 million “to recruit, hire, and train 500 new Border Patrol Agents and 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement law enforcement personnel.”

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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That detail struck Anna Chu, vice president for income security and education at the National Women’s Law Center.

“I think the fact that he is prioritizing things like building the wall sends a not-so-subtle message to many communities of color,” Chu told Rewire in a phone interview. To Chu, the message resonates in the context of a budget that eliminates the Minority Business Development Agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Trump’s cabinet will play an outsized role in making decisions about federal workforce cuts at other departments and agencies. This could bode poorly for Rick Perry’s U.S. Department of Energy, since the former Texas governor once wanted to abolish the department he now runs.

Trump eliminates federal funding for nearly three dozen independent agencies, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the United States Institute of Peace. By zeroing out funding for the Legal Services Corporation, the president will effectively dismantle what Rewire’s Jessica Mason Pieklo called the “civil equivalent of public defender system and a key tool in combating systemic discrimination.”

The blueprint contains audacious provisions to restrict people with low incomes from food and shelter. Say goodbye to grants that fund Meals on Wheels and Habitat for Humanity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Many devastating attacks to reproductive justice—per SisterSong’s definition, “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities”—would happen at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Funding for HHS would drop by $15.1 billion, a 17.9 percent decrease from today’s funding level. Buried in the details: scaling down or outright eliminating HHS resources on which people with low incomes rely for family planning and to raise their families.

If Trump gets his way, he’ll bring an end to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a perpetually underfunded, HHS-administered program that does exactly what its name indicates.

“When you eliminate things like heating and cooling expenses for families, you’re literally leaving people out in the cold during winter,” Chu said.

Life-saving research could slow or halt with $5.8 billion less in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) coffers.

Some of the more vocal anti-choice Republicans on Capitol Hill had it out for the NIH, an agency of HHS and the world’s largest biomedical research agency.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and her colleagues on last year’s $1.59 million Planned Parenthood “witch hunt” had indicated that they could wield the appropriations process against NIH to end the use of fetal tissue procured from abortion care for research purposes. And Colorado Republican Doug Lamborn’s boldly-named End Trafficking of the Terminated Unborn Act of 2017 (HR 524) would potentially ban fetal tissue donations from “induced abortion” for NIH-conducted or -supported research.

Congressional Republicans in the early 1990s helped to legalize research involving fetal tissue before turning on it. Blackburn repeatedly downplayed the importance of the heavily regulated research throughout the course of her investigation. But some of the researchers whose privacy, safety, and job security she jeopardized with unredacted documents told Rewire that fetal tissue plays an important role in understanding the causes of diseases, particularly Zika and others that strike in utero. Such research could lead to major developments in regenerative medicine, potentially replacing lost neurons as a result of Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries.

Trump’s initial budget outline did not determine the fate of another area under HHS purview: Title X family planning grants. Such funds serve a highly vulnerable population—more than 90 percent women, nearly three-fifths people of color, and mostly uninsured or young, according to HHS’s 2014 family planning annual report.

But House Republicans are expected to yet again gut funding for Title X and Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants despite their contributions to the country’s falling abortion rate.

Their track record worries officials from advocacy groups like the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA).

“Congress certainly hasn’t demonstrated a strong commitment to family planning in recent years,” Audrey Sandusky, NFPRHA’s director of advocacy and communications, said in an email. “We are deeply concerned that previous congressional attempts to slash or even eliminate funding for the Title X program could indeed be a troubling harbinger of what lies ahead for the safety net.”

Republicans in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are attempting to shred Obama-era family planning protections using an arcane procedure tool called the Congressional Review Act. House Republicans last month forced a nearly party-line vote to strip federal funding from family planning clinics, including Planned Parenthood affiliates, that provide abortion care. The Senate has yet to take up the measure.

Even though many HHS budget specifics were lacking in Trump’s blueprint, Chu feared that the worst is yet to come. “I’m not confident about the fate of minority health services on the HHS side,” she said.

Sen. Patty Murray (WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, called Trump’s budget blueprint a “complete nonstarter” over reproductive health care, among other issues.

“President Trump has sent a clear message that to him, women’s health is a political football, not a priority—and in fact, he and his extreme Administration have been clear that they are determined to take women backwards,” Murray said in a statement.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), an outspoken reproductive justice advocate and a member of the House budget and appropriations committees, said Trump’s budget blueprint “once again confirms that his priorities and values are deeply out of step with the American people.”

“This budget would offer massive handouts to defense contractors while gutting lifesaving programs for the poor and middle class,” Lee said in a statement. “By slashing lifesaving programs, including job training, work-study aid, public health research, and housing assistance, the Trump Administration’s plan would wreak havoc on our communities. Turning our backs on working families, seniors, the disabled and the sick is both cruel and counterproductive. Nowhere are President Trump’s misplaced priorities clearer than in this budget’s outrageous request for more than $2 billion to construct his un-American wall on the southern border.”