College grants. Heating and power bill assistance. Community development funding. The delivery of meals to homebound seniors who would otherwise starve. Free civil legal aid for poor people. These are just a few of the things that African-Americans and others — particularly those with low incomes — “have to lose” with President Donald Trump’s federal budget plan for fiscal year 2018, which was unveiled Thursday. Although it leaves entitlement programs like Social Security untouched, the plan features massive cuts to social, education and community development programs, while boosting spending for national and homeland defense.
“We’ve heard all of this talk from President Trump about African-Americans not having anything to lose under his Administration. The truth is that we have a lot to lose and his budget proposal is proof of that,” said Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, in a published statement.
“Although President Trump promised a ‘New Deal for Black America,’ his budget slashes the federal workforce and cripples domestic programs (e.g. federal student services TRIO programs, LIHEAP, grants for after school programs, Community Development Block Grants, and Community Services Block Grants), and we’re likely to see even more cuts in these areas if he gives tax breaks to the wealthy, as expected. All of this hurts the African-American community.”
Last month saw the photo-op (and visual gaffe) created when the presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities crowded into the Oval Office for the signing of an executive order placing the federal HBCU initiative under White House supervision. They came seeking additional funding for their financially-struggling institutions. Yet the proposed cuts to higher education funding would deeply affect the ability of their students to afford schooling.
Trump proposes slashing 14 percent from the Department of Education budget, erasing $9.2 billion in funding. Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which go to low-income students, are to be eliminated altogether, and there would be significant reductions to the federal college work-study, which enables colleges to employ financially needy students in part-time campus jobs. “This budget slashes critical funding for institutions, students, and their families,” said North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams in a statement, citing “a nearly $4 billion rescission in Pell Grants, an almost $200 million cut from TRIO and Gear Up, and no increase to HBCU specific funding.” She added, “This budget guts the support programs that build a pipeline of deserving students to these colleges and universities.”
Advocates of K-12 charter schools and private school vouchers, on the other hand, would receive an unprecedented $1.4 billion boost.
The Department of Health and Human Services budget would lose 16 percent of its budget, or $12.6 billion. This would include the elimination of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps elderly and low-income people pay their heating and power bills, in order to save $3.4 billion.
The Commerce department budget would be cut 16 percent over 2017 levels, losing $1.5 billion in funding. Among programs getting the axe include the Minority Business Development Agency, which funds a nationwide network of business centers to help minority-owned business stay competitive and create jobs. The premise is that the MBDA is “duplicative” of other federal programs, but the move would only save $32 million.
The budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, headed by Ben Carson, would be cut 12 percent over 2017 levels, losing $4.3 billion in funding. This includes saving $3 billion with the elimination of the Community Development Block Grant Program, which currently covers Meals on Wheels and a variety of programs intended to revitalize and develop low-income communities, as well as fight poverty.
Also on the chopping block are the Legal Services Corp and the African Development Foundation.
“This budget proposal is not a new deal for African Americans,” Richmond said. “It’s a raw deal that robs the poor and the middle-class to pay the richest of the rich.”
On Wednesday the CBC had unveiled an “alternative budget” that it says reduces the deficit by approximately $2.87 trillion over 10 years while preserving social safety net programs and “pathways out of poverty.” Part of that reduction would come from raising $3.9 trillion in additional tax revenue in ways that lean more heavily on corporations and wealthier Americans. It would add a public insurance option to the Affordable Care Act exchanges, boost college Pell Grants, reduce federal student loan interest rates and it “invests in HBCUs.”
The path between Trump’s proposal and the final budget that passes Congress may be long and rocky. Black lawmakers are set to meet with President Trump on March 22, according to a Tweet from the CBC’s account that did not specify what is on the agenda.
Sheryl Huggins Salomon is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based editor and digital media consultant. Follow her on Twitter.