A nation’s budget is not just a blueprint for spending and revenues reflecting the country’s activities. It is also, importantly, a statement on the country’s values, its priorities, its’ vision for how it will work towards creating that elusive “more perfect union.”
In this last regard, the budget unveiled by the Trump Administration earlier this week is an unmitigated disaster. It not only will pull the rug out from under millions of low-income husbands, wives, parents, grandparents and children – hundreds of thousands here in Wisconsin – it will do so with a shrug and a “who cares” from the federal government.
The Community Services Block Grant: core funding for Wisconsin’s Community Action Agencies, enabling the creation of innovative programs leading to self-sufficiency (like our Job and Business Development program assisting low-income entrepreneurs) and serving as the “glue” that allows CAAs to leverage other numerous resources for local communities ($167 million in 2016). Currently funded at $713 million, the Trump Administration proposes $0 funding in Federal Fiscal Year 2018. Last year, Wisconsin’s CAAs served over 212,000 low-income individuals; it is impossible to gauge the number that could be directly and negatively impacted by the Trump budget proposal to zero out funding. But … “who cares.”
The Weatherization Assistance Program: The federal Weatherization Assistance program provides resources to weatherize the homes of low-income households, thereby helping those families and individuals to save substantially on their energy bills and providing for a healthier and more comfortable living environment while also helping to conserve energy and essential natural resources. Weatherization also serves as a valuable economic engine; for every one dollar spent on weatherization in the local community, that dollar turns over two to three times in added economic benefit to businesses and taxpayers. Last year, the weatherization program (funded nationally at $230 million) provided $8 million to Wisconsin; Community Action Agencies provided weatherization to 3,476 homes. The Trump Administration budget proposes $0 in FY 2018 funding, zeroing out the program. But … “who cares.”
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): LIHEAP has served as an absolutely essential benefit for hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens in paying their energy bills. It has been a particularly effective tool in preventing or mitigating elderly poverty. It has been of value to all Wisconsin’s utility customers in that it has helped reduce uncollectible accounts which would otherwise be absorbed by all customers. Last year, Wisconsin residents eligible for the program received an average benefit of $243 toward their energy bills; a total of over $80 million in energy assistance in Wisconsin. Here, too, the Trump Administration proposes to zero out funding for LIHEAP in FY 2018. No benefits will mean increased uncollectibles and the attendant increased burden on bills of all customers; it will also mean increased health and safety danger when power is disconnected for failure to pay a bill. But … “who cares.”
These are just three programs that are of particular importance to Community Action Agencies in Wisconsin and throughout the nation. Across the board, the Trump Administration budget proposes to eviscerate or abolish many other programs which are successfully helping low-income families and individuals work towards economic self-sufficiency: Medicaid, Community Development Block Grants, HOME Housing Partnership program, Senior Community Service Employment program, Corporation for National and Community Service, Legal Services Corporation, Woman, Infants and Children, Community Economic Development Grants … the list goes on and on in mind-numbing cruelty.
Contrary to much of the media noise, these programs are working; as the just-released Poverty in Wisconsin report (authored by the Institute for Research on Poverty) shows, for the first time since before the Great Recession, poverty rates declined in Wisconsin in 2015. If the Trump Administration is successful – or even somewhat successful – in achieving its proposed cuts, we will be immediately tumbling back downwards, creating more poverty and stripping away the hopes for economic self-sufficiency from hundreds of thousands of low-and-moderate income families.
The authors of the proposed budget bill are saying, by their actions, “who cares”. But we in the Community Action world have faith that the vast majority of Wisconsin’s citizens and leaders are saying “we care” in response. Because we have faith that we are a more decent, a more moral and a wiser nation than the FY 2018 Trump budget would have us believe. And that we will not let it stand.