From the perspective of the welfare of America’s children, the assumptions underneath President Donald Trump’s 2018 federal budget proposal are deeply troubling. The budget reinforces the theory that everybody ought to be earning a living, but except for Ivanka Trump’s idea for six weeks of newborn parental leave, there really isn’t any recognition that child rearing is a kind of work. The budget reflects that as a society we have just come to expect that children are raised, but we neither pay much attention to how that’s supposed to happen nor respect those who do the rearing. According to that logic, we fail to honor not only the work of mothers and fathers but also the work of child care providers. The minimum wage is so low that these workers qualify for Medicaid and SNAP (today’s name for food stamps). The President’s new budget slashes federal funding for Medicaid and for SNAP and fully eliminates a well respected and federally funded after-school program designed to enrich children’s lives in the hours before their parents finish work.
And there are big questions about whether Ivanka’s parental leave program would work for low-income parents. Here is the Center for Law and Social Policy: “In the midst of this grim context for working families, the budget attempts to throw them a small bone with a plan to offer six weeks of paid parental leave to care for a new child. In reality, though, this proposed program would do very little for low-income families. If states set wage replacement comparable to the unemployment insurance rates, that would leave many low-income workers unable to make ends meet while on leave and therefore unlikely to use the program.”
The NY Times editorial board is blunt in its condemnation of the priorities in Trump’s budget proposal: “Food stamps work. Each month they help feed 43 million poor and low-income Americans, most in families with children and working parents. Food stamps, officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, keep millions of people from falling into poverty each year and prevent millions of poor people, many disabled or elderly, from falling deeper into poverty. They also improve the future prospects of poor children by fostering better health and graduation rates… President Trump’s budget plan would destroy the food stamp program, on the pretense that it discourages work. That’s nonsense, because most adult recipients either work or are unable to do so because of age or disability. A more plausible explanation is that cutting food stamps would help to offset the cost of huge tax cuts for the rich.”
The Child Welfare League of America lists programs that help children and their families but are being eliminated altogether in Trump’s budget: the Social Services Block Grant, the 21st Century Afterschool Learning Centers, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Community Development Block Grant.
The budget further reduces Medicaid, much below the cuts already passed last month in the House effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Here is the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “The budget would cut health assistance to low-and moderate-income people by $1.9 trillion over ten years: 1) $1.3 trillion from the House bill to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that the budget endorses—which would take health insurance from 23 million people, raise out-of-pocket health costs for millions more, and substantially weaken key protections for people with pre-existing conditions—and 2) $610 billion Medicaid cuts on top of that.”
First Focus adds that the budget also makes deep cuts to the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program: “As with Medicaid, the Trump budget proposal not only slashes funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), it fundamentally restructures the program. Despite proposing a two-year extension for CHIP through 2019, it cuts allotments by a staggering $5.8 billion or 21 percent. CHIP is an enormously successful bipartisan program that covers 8.9 million kids and, since its inception in 1997, has reduced the number of uninsured children by an astounding 68 percent. But its funding is set to expire on September 30, so Congress must act to extend the program as soon as possible.”
The Center for Law and Social Policy puts some of this into context: “The budget slashes or eliminates a wide range of other crucial programs that help stabilize low-income families. For example, it eliminates assistance for low-income families and seniors to pay heating and cooling bills. It takes the Child Tax Credit (CTC) away from children living with immigrant, tax-paying parents who file their taxes using an Individualized Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)—a group of about 5 million children, the vast majority of whom are U.S. citizens. And it would cut the TANF block grant by 10 percent for all states—and more for some—on top of a 30 percent reduction in the block grant as a result of inflation since its enactment 20 years ago, sharply reducing state resources to help low-income families avoid destitution.”
The Center for Law and Social Policy also summarizes budget cuts that will make college less affordable for lower income students: “For low-income students pursuing postsecondary education, the budget is a perfect storm of cuts—making it far harder for students to complete the education they need to move up on the job. The budget proposal would slash funding for the Work-Study program by almost 50 percent, eliminating employment for more than 300,000 low-income students working their way through college, about 25 percent of whom have an income below $12,000. The budget would also remove $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant budget, threatening to destabilize the program, which already covers less than 30 percent of the average cost of college attendance. The maximum Pell Grant amount is proposed to be frozen at $5,920, which would end the past five years of automatic inflation adjustments. The budget also proposes to eliminate Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which helps cover college costs for more than 1.6 million students with the greatest need each year; abolish subsidized student loans, which prevent interest from accruing on college loans for low-and moderate-income students while they are in school; and end loan forgiveness for students who go into lower-paying public service careers”
While cuts to K-12 federal education programs seem small compared to some of these reductions to health and human services programs that serve families and children, remember that states and local school districts provide the bulk of education funding. Federal funds for education are, however, essential and have already been radically reduced in recent years due to budget austerity through sequestration. Here is Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explaining years’ of slashing federal funding for what is called Non-Defense Discretionary Spending (non-entitlement spending for domestic programs and foreign aid): “As expected, the budget slashes non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs by $54 billion below the already-austere sequestration level for 2018 and by a remarkable $1.6 trillion over the next decade—taking NDD spending in 2018 to its lowest level as a percent of the economy in six decades—and after ten years, to levels as a percent of the economy not seen since the Hoover Administration and possibly even earlier… Indeed, his proposed NDD funding levels strain credulity. In 2027, the Administration calls for cutting funding for NDD programs $218 billion below the 2017 level, adjusted for inflation—that is, cutting NDD 41 percent by 2027.”
Although this budget will certainly not be enacted by Congress as proposed, the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz accuses the Trump administration of “giving a license for… extremism in thinking about the social fabric in our country.” The NY Times editorial board echoes Stiglitz’s concern: “The proposed cuts have little chance of enactment, but they are still dangerous. Extreme proposals are a way to make less extreme proposals seem acceptable.” This budget encourages Americans to embrace radical individualism, abandon commitment to the social contract, and define decency down.