Ripples from Trump’s proposal felt locally
Dramatic cuts could be in the making for organizations that benefit many residents of Washington County, including Washington-Morgan Community Action and Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, leaving organizations concerned about their future. Cuts related to education and agriculture are also among discussion after President Donald Trump released his 2018 budget proposal last week.
The proposal detailed many of the changes Trump wants to make to the federal government’s spending, including cuts for low-income legal aid, senior services and the arts.
“They have to make cuts somewhere but I don’t think this is the first place it needs to be,” said Helen Francis, 77, of Marietta.
The proposal covers only discretionary spending and not mandatory spending. Trump plans to increase defense spending by $54 billion, according to the proposal. This also include $2.6 billion for a border wall with Mexico.
To pay for an increase in defense spending, a down payment on the border wall and school voucher programs, funding was cut from the discretionary budgets of other executive departments and agencies. The budget eliminates funding for 19 agencies.
Legal Service for Low-Income Families
“We have four attorneys and one paralegal for seven counties with our current funding,” said Robin Bozian, project managing attorney for Southeastern Ohio Legal Services. “Assisting low-income individuals with keeping their utilities on or other services we offer is just one way of keeping the community as healthy as possible.”
Southeastern Ohio Legal Services is civil legal aid that helps keep the justice system fair for all regardless of how much money an individual may have. They also provide access to legal help so people can protect their livelihoods, their health, their homes and their families.
“Our safety net would be gone and we wouldn’t be able to do the things we do,” said Bozian. “Those things helped form great projects in our area. It will be devastating to see this budget pass.”
According to Bozian, the Southeastern Ohio Legal Services would have to make dramatic cuts if this budget passes.
“We wouldn’t close immediately but we could see reductions as much as 50 percent,” she said. “We receive 45 percent of federal funding. There’s no way we would operate the same way as we do now with this budget.”
Department of Housing and Urban Development
“We are certainly concerned with this budget proposal,” said David Brightbill, director of Washington-Morgan County Community Action. “There are lots of issues in the budget that will affect the community. Our heating assistance program would be zeroed out, the home weatherization program would be zeroed out and the Community Services Block Grant would be zeroed out as well.”
According to Brightbill, the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) which runs from Nov. 1 until March 31, helped 5,200 households in Washington and Morgan counties in 2016.
This is a program for residents that may have their electric disconnected, are facing disconnection, need a new service, need assistance paying gas and electric bills, need propane or kerosene or need firewood. Residents must be income eligible for HEAP.
The weatherization program, which helps family become more energy efficient, is helping 38 homes.
Organizations like Community Action manage public housing and rely heavily on federal funding, Brightbill said. The Community Services Block Grant is worth $3 billion and according to the budget, would be eliminated. According to Brightbill, Washington-Morgan Community Action receives around $250,000 of that grant.
“Congress will have to work their will on this budget but it could be very problematic if it is passed as is,” Brightbill said.
Congress typically makes changes to a presidential budget proposal.
David Scheimann, site supervisor for AmeriCorps at Washington State Community College, said the threat to funding isn’t anything terribly new. AmeriCorps is an organization that is facing extreme cuts if this budget gets approved.
“We will plan as needed but we may have to tighten the belt on things if it’s passed like this,” he said. “The AmeriCorps Ohio College Guides are planning to serve in nine sites next year and there will be 90 members. The program is a state-wide initiative administered by College Now Greater Cleveland and funded through Serve Ohio and the Corporation for National Community Service.”
Scheimann said this has been on the chopping block before but once it made its way to Congress, things usually change.
“We are concerned but at this point, not taking any drastic measures,” he said.
There are 11 AmeriCorps members throughout Washington County. Their sites include Marietta College, Marietta Family YMCA, Washington County Health Department, Washington State Community College, OSM Friends of Lower Muskingum River and Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).
“We tackle problem areas of healthy futures, economic development, education and veteran and military families,” said Stacy Steed, AmeriCorps VISTA representative at RSVP. “We all have different assignments based on the service sites we are placed. Like currently, I’m working on a homeless project. There’s a variety of work in the area.”
The Trump administration is seeking to cut 21 percent of the Agriculture Department’s discretionary spending budget. The vulnerable programs include rural development and research grants but exclude SNAP (food stamps) and crop subsidies. The USDA will also reduce staff by an unspecified amount at various service center agencies around the country.
“We aren’t making any comments yet because this isn’t anything other than a proposal,” said Mike Gillinger, USDA spokesman. “It’s just an outline on what the president wants. We aren’t supposed to formulate the policy, just inform.”
The cuts may eliminate the $200 million McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, eliminate the $500 million Water and Wastewater loan and grant program, cut Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance from $6.4 billion to $6.2 billion, result in staff reductions at USDA service center agencies around the country and cut $95 million from the Rural Business and Cooperative Service.
The Education Department faces a 14 percent cut under the Trump administration budget. This would downsize or eliminate roughly $3.7 billion in grants, including for teacher training, after-school programs and aid to low-income and minority college students.
“Teachers would do anything for their students,” said Kyle Newton, superintendent for Warren Local Schools. “They want to continue to reduce their resources to educate children.”
The cuts would be coupled with a historic investment of $1.4 billion in charter schools, private schools and other school-choice initiatives, according to the budget.
Increases in charter school funding would be by $168 million, a new private-school choice program would be created for $250 million and $1 billion would be spent to encourage districts to allow federal dollars meant for low-income students to follow those students to the public school of their choice, according to the budget.
Agencies to be eliminated in the budget include the Appalachian Regional Commission, which has provided numerous grants in Washington and surrounding counties.
The other 18 agencies are the African Development Foundation, the Chemical Safety Board, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Delta Regional Authority, the Denali Commission, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Inter-American Foundation, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the Legal Services Corporation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, the Northern Border Regional Commission, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. Institute of Peace, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
“I wouldn’t be mad if they made cuts with the congressmen and members of the senate’s salary,” said Andrew Francis, 80, of Marietta.
Williamstown resident Patsy Johnson, 66, said she lived off of a disability check and knows how hard it is to make ends meet sometimes.
“I can’t imagine what they’d do,” she said. “I understand increasing military spending. Without our military, we would be sunk but how much waste is really going on there?”
Senior services in Marietta are protected by the senior levy that was passed again by voters last November. This includes Meals on Wheels where residents 60 and older are eligible for a free meal delivered to them. The program is facing reductions on the national level.
“I have real health problems and depend on this,” said Bill Jones, 88, of Marietta. “Many people of variety that are facing these budget cuts should get together. They would get so much done.”