(VTDigger’s Erin Mansfield contributed to this report.)
WASHINGTON — Republican President Donald Trump on Tuesday released his detailed budget proposal for next year, an austere vision for America that would deeply cut funding for programs in poor, rural areas while providing tax breaks for the wealthy and boosting the military.
In short, the plan for fiscal year 2018 — titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness” — would hurt many of Trump’s supporters, many of whom voted for a candidate who pledged to fight for the little guy and to protect, even bolster, social safety nets.
“This budget’s defining ambition is to unleash the dreams of the American people,” Trump wrote in a preface. “This requires laying a new foundation for American Greatness.”
The president’s proposal calls for a 10 percent increase in military spending while cutting nonmilitary discretionary programs 10.6 percent, or $57 billion. The cuts, which would increase over the next years for a number of programs, are part of the White House’s goal of eliminating the federal budget deficit by 2027.
Trump would slash the budget for Medicaid by $620 billion between 2020 and 2027. The Vermont Agency of Human Services estimates that would cost the state’s $1.7 billion Medicaid program around $200 million.
The president would also slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps and in Vermont as 3SquaresVT; and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is called Reach Up in Vermont.
Trump’s budget would also eliminate the cost-of-living adjustment in federal employee salaries.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP, would be eliminated, a $3.3 billion savings. Vermont got about $19 million for LIHEAP in 2016, helping more than 21,000 households.
Trump’s budget also calls LIHEAP a program with “sizeable fraud and abuse, leading to program integrity concerns.” The budget says the agencies that process applications have done “little to prevent awards from being provided to individuals with fake addresses and fake energy bills.”
Additionally, the budget says the program “is no longer a necessity” because all 50 states have enacted laws to prevent utilities from disconnecting people under certain circumstances. The budget said 15 states protect people from having their electricity cut off during cold weather in the winter.
The 3SquaresVT program would see an unknown reduction in the $113 million in federal dollars the Department for Children and Families pays out every year. There were 77,400 people using the program at the end of March, and 75 percent of them were either children, elderly or disabled.
“Our concern would be that any impact would fall disproportionately on folks who, it would be very difficult for them to make it up someplace else,” said Sean Brown, the deputy commissioner for DCF.
Al Gobeille, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services, called Trump’s budget “a reduction budget, not an innovation budget.” He said he doesn’t support the budget because the cuts would be hard on the people he serves.
“We work real hard to make sure that there is not fraud in Vermont programs of any of the eligibility criteria,” Gobeille said. “I think that it is pretty disingenuous to label everyone in need of assistance as somehow fraudulent. To paint our most vulnerable folks with that brush isn’t fair.”
He said: “If you’re an 85-year-old woman and you’re relying on heating assistance to heat your home when it’s 45 degrees inside, that is so real to you. It’s not political. It’s not a bumper sticker. That’s your life.”
All three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation immediately panned the proposal as a mean-spirited, misguided strategy for the future. While Republicans were more muted in their reactions, the major planks of the Trump proposal have a low likelihood of being adopted by congressional leaders.
In his proposal, Trump does not restructure Social Security or Medicare, two of the most expensive and popular federal programs. A comprehensive breakdown of proposed cuts in the safety net can be found here.
“There’s a certain philosophy wrapped up in the budget, and that is — we are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” said White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, one of the budget’s chief architects, in a Monday news conference. “We’re not going to measure our success by how much money we spend, but by how many people we actually help.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said the proposal is “immoral,” contending that it will “cause an enormous amount of pain for the most vulnerable people in our nation.” Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., offered a similar indictment, saying the Trump budget “throws overboard the rural Americans who elected him.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, called the budget reckless and a “compilation of broken promises to working men and women.”
“Rural America, including rural states like Vermont, is MIA in the president’s budget,” Leahy said. “His budget eliminates key investments in rural communities, leaving them without federal partnership support for everything from infrastructure development and affordable housing, to programs that preserve the environment and provide food for the elderly.”
Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s spokesperson, Rebecca Kelley, said in a statement that “the administration is carefully reviewing the president’s budget and evaluating the potential impacts on the state budget and programs and services for Vermonters.”
“While the president has proposed significant investments in the nation’s infrastructure – and the governor agrees with the assessment we need to invest in our roads, bridges and other public means of transportation – the cuts in the budget that would be incurred by Vermont agencies, including Human Services, Natural Resources and Education, are very concerning,” Kelley said.
“It is important to note this is a proposed budget and will go through congressional changes and review. The governor and his team will work closely with Vermont’s delegation and other governors to identify and protect against changes that could adversely affect Vermonters.”
Health and Human Services
Trump’s budget is designed with the assumption that the American Health Care Act — the latest Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — will pass. The budget says that would save $250 billion across multiple agencies.
The budget reduces funding to several parts of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the National Institutes of Health, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The budget would eliminate the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality entirely.
Global health programs — including those that fund treatment for HIV and AIDS — would be cut by $2 billion. The budget calls the U.S. a major funder of global public health programs and calls on other countries to start paying more.
Rural Economy and Agriculture
Trump would cut $855 million in programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including ones popular in the Green Mountain State.
As Vermont struggles to deal with phosphorous pollution in Lake Champlain largely caused by agricultural runoff, Trump would slash the Rural Water and Waste Disposal Program by nearly $500 million, effectively eliminating the program.
This program currently provides funding for clean and reliable drinking water systems, sanitary sewage disposal and sanitary solid waste disposal across Vermont and the country.
Trump would also reduce rural conservation grants by $83 million, a potentially troubling cut in the eyes of Anson Tebbetts, Vermont’s agriculture secretary.
Tebbetts said Trump’s proposal is still relatively light on detail. But he said that, if implemented, it could mean less support for everything from pesticide data programs to the Environmental Quality Incentive Program.
“We are keeping our eyes peeled on developments,” Tebbetts said. “The EQIP program, for example, really helps our farmers with conservation practices to improve the quality of Vermont’s soil, water and land.”
The salaries for USDA’s rural workers would also be cut by $53 million under Trump’s proposal, a move that could reduce technical and grant assistance to Vermont farmers.
Trump would also eliminate the Rural Business and Cooperative Service. The service offers grants ranging from $10,000 to $500,000 to businesses with fewer than 50 employees in rural areas.
One such grant, totaling $357,990, enabled Maxwell Farms in Newport to buy a methane digester. Once the digester was purchased, the 850-cow farm created a new income stream selling power to a local utility.
Also on the chopping block are Community Services Block Grants, which fund construction projects, such as senior housing facilities and local libraries.
Single Family Housing Direct Loans, which offer home loans to middle-class families in rural areas, would be scrapped, for a total savings of $61 million.
The Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which funds consulting services for small- and medium-size businesses, would see $124 million of its $130 million evaporate.
The Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center, which is affiliated with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, has offered advice to businesses small and large across the state for more than two decades. The organization’s website features executives from IBM and Vermont Creamery thanking it for critical support.
Bob Zider, president of the Vermont center, told VTDigger in March that the $124 million allocated to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership is a small price to pay for a service that helps to sustain manufacturing.
“The idea to cut this is contradictory to President Trump’s agenda to boost manufacturing jobs,” Zider said. “The MEP network is vital to the White House’s overall agenda. We help small manufacturers across the nation.”
Also on the chopping block is the Economic Development Administration, which would see the vast majority of its $251 million budget cut. The EDA supports various organizations in the state, including the Vermont Community Loan Fund.
The Economic Development Administration invested $265,000 in 2016 to boost the green energy economy around Vernon in an effort to mitigate the economic impact of shutting down the Vermont Yankee power plant. In 2013, the EDA invested $6.5 million in Vermont. The money was used to improve internet and communications infrastructure in 25 communities throughout the state.
Another job program that would come to an end is the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which helps older people find jobs. Vermont Associates for Training & Development has been recognized nationally for its successful implementation of the program.
Trump is also advocating to eliminate all but $1 million for the Northern Border Regional Commission, which supports economic development in rural, economically challenged areas of the state. Last year, Vermont received $1.8 million from the commission.
The Environmental Protection Agency would be one of the hardest hit agencies under Trump’s plan, with a proposed 31 percent budget cut.
About $32 million from the EPA supports Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation annually.
Julie Moore, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, said she expected Trump’s proposal to be moderated but that it was still a startling plan.
“I wouldn’t describe the budget as reassuring in any way, now that we have more details,” Moore said. “Frankly it’s alarming because of its statement of priorities.”
The cuts, if implemented, would gut funding for the Lake Champlain Basin Program, depriving the cleanup effort of millions of dollars annually.
Federal support for state forestry programs would be halved, resulting in reduced upkeep and conservation of wildlife in Vermont.
The president is also looking to reduce funding for Superfund cleanup sites by $330 million, and general grant money would be cut by $482 million. Moore said there is also talk of shifting Superfund efforts to the national office, which could complicate how the state currently works to clean up polluted properties.
In addition, Trump would eliminate the Energy Star efficiency program and other climate programs for a savings of $66 million, and would curtail enforcement measures from the EPA, cutting funding for that sector by nearly a fourth.
Moore said there is also talk of shuttering an EPA regional office serving Vermont, which would hobble the technical EPA assistance relied upon by Vermont. Various EPA labs are also being considered for shutdown, including a lab in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Moore said Vermont “relies on that lab to do many different sorts of tests and analyses.”
“EPA is an important partner in a lot of the work our agency does, both in terms of technical and financial assistance,” Moore said. “I can’t overvalue how important it is to have a robust Environmental Protection Agency.”
Trump’s budget would cut education spending by nearly $10 billion. To find these savings, the government would make changes for students at all learning levels, from ending federal subsidies on student loan interest to scaling back child nutrition programs.
Trump’s cuts to the Department of Education would eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, a $1.1 billion program established by the late U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, of Vermont.
The program, based on a pilot project at the H.O. Wheeler School in Burlington, supports before- and after-school programs, as well as summer programs.
The Trump budget would also phase out public service loan forgiveness, where qualified jobs in government or in nonprofits are eligible for loan forgiveness after 10 years of employment. Trump also targets the federal TRIO program, which offers college counseling and assistance to working class students overwhelmed by the complex application process.
Vermont Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe said her agency already has federal spending commitments for fiscal year 2018, and she was hopeful that bipartisan pushback would emerge over Trump’s cuts. Vermont received $125 million in federal education dollars last year, $32 million of which went to child nutrition, Holcombe said.
“Trump has signaled a desire to reduce support for our most vulnerable children, but members of both parties strongly support programs that assist these populations,” Holcombe said.
Holcombe said, despite her expectation that Trump’s budget will be moderated, she was concerned by the president’s proposal.
Child nutrition programs would be cut, and so would after-school extended learning programs. Millions of federal dollars allocated to train teachers would evaporate. Trump has also proposed cuts to technical education programs passed in the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006.
“Our tech centers are doing extraordinary work for first-generation college students involved in the Fast Forward program,” Holcombe said. “We have one of the highest graduation rates for high school yet one of the lowest rates of postsecondary education in the country, so we need that support.”
The Trump budget also calls for a 21 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health, which could jeopardize millions of dollars funneled to the University of Vermont for research projects.
“I would encourage folks to keep advocating for crucial support for education and kids,” Holcombe said. “I hope there is strong bipartisan pushback to these proposals.”
Arts and Culture
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would see $454 million of its $484 million budget evaporate under Trump’s plan.
In 2014, the CPB allocated $1.7 million in Vermont to subsidize four public access TV stations, including Vermont PBS. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting gave grants to 17 radio stations across the state, including Vermont Public Radio, which received $754,000 from the government.
In a statement Tuesday, PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said Trump’s proposed cuts would “result in a tremendous loss to our country that would be especially devastating for rural and underserved communities.”
“For about $1.35 per citizen, per year, Americans reap significant benefits in terms of school readiness for children, trusted resources for teachers and home-schoolers, civil discourse and critical public safety communications,” Kerger said.
The National Endowment for the Arts and its counterpart for the humanities would lose more than $200 million.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services would see nearly all of its budget eliminated under Trump, as would the Corporation for National and Community Service. Between 2016 and 2017, the CNCS committed more than $6.2 million to support Vermont communities through service projects administered by groups including AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity.
Next Steps in Congress
Although Republicans control Congress, Trump’s proposal may receive a chilly reception on the Hill. And in the Senate, where Republicans hold a two-seat majority, Democrats will likely be needed to pass a sweeping budget out of the chamber.
During negotiations on the 2017 budget earlier this year, legislators of both parties ditched Trump’s plan, including his request for money for a Southern border wall. Negotiators forged a rare bipartisan deal that kept most federal agencies funded at current levels. Some programs benefitting Vermonters, like USDA clean water grants and programs fighting the opioid crisis, even saw increases over 2016 levels.
Leahy was the top Democratic negotiator hammering out a spending plan that runs until the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Leahy is reprising this role as 2018 budget talks heat up. (In May, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., gave Leahy an “A-plus” for his first round of negotiations.)
Leahy said Tuesday he would immediately begin work scheduling hearings and open debate over the 12 appropriations bills laying out spending levels in various areas.
“The president’s budget proposal is not bipartisan,” Leahy said in a statement. “And it is not in the best interests of the country or of the real priorities of the American people. It’s unbalanced, needlessly provocative and appallingly short-sighted. It is not a pathway toward returning the Senate to doing its work the way it is supposed to be done. More than being dead on arrival, this budget is truly odious on arrival.”
Leahy is close with Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss. The two recently collaborated on the Farm to School Act of 2015, which supports the use of local farm produce for school lunch programs.
The two worked successfully on the 2017 deal. In a statement Tuesday, Cochran suggested the Senate would be drafting a proposal separate from Trump’s.
“The Appropriations Committee will immediately begin to hold hearings and do the work necessary to prepare appropriations bills that responsibly provide for our national security and other priorities,” Cochran said. “We have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.”