From the Beacon, April 2017
It’s budget season, and local and state officials are deep into the process, making their best decisions based on estimates and reasonable predictions about revenues and expenses. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s proposed federal spending plan has thrown an unusual amount of confusion into the mix, primarily because he is seeking extraordinarily deep cuts in funding for important domestic programs that communities and states rely on.
The president is proposing more than $50 billion in cuts to non-defense agencies, the deepest percentage reduction in 35 years. For Massachusetts, the cuts would jeopardize the budget filed by Gov. Charlie Baker, which relies on $11.44 billion in federal revenue, most of which ($11 billion) is for health and human services, with $200 million for education. In addition, the Trump budget would threaten hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants that support essential elements of the state economy, including health care, life sciences and technology.
Municipal and state leaders are right to be deeply concerned. The proposal would eliminate the entire $3.3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, slash Community Service Block Grants (which fund Meals on Wheels and other vital local human service needs), slash LIHEAP (which would hit New England states particularly hard), and hit dozens of other programs that benefit communities and disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Here at home, the elimination of the CDBG program would wipe out $90 million in critically needed funds that are used to build economic and community programs in neighborhoods all across Massachusetts. In fiscal 2016 alone, 37 directly-funded communities received $61.8 million in vital funding for community-based investments. And more than 100 smaller communities received $28 million for similarly important projects and programs.
In the last seven years, 44 percent of the eligible communities in Massachusetts have received CDBG grants of some kind. Some $237 million has been distributed across 321 grants awarded, with an average value per grant of $741,000. The average population of a grant community is 10,213. Smaller communities are particularly dependent on CDBGs to leverage larger projects.
The CDBG program has also been an invaluable tool in combatting the housing shortage in the Commonwealth. Over the same seven-year period, CDBGs have rehabilitated more than 3,000 housing units and repaired or rehabilitated more than 300,000 linear feet of public infrastructure.
Here is a snapshot of many of the cuts that would be made by President Trump’s budget:
• Eliminate the Economic Development Administration ($221 million) and the Minority Business Development Agency
• Cut $9 billion from the Department of Education (a 13 percent reduction), eliminating the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC), which are before-school, afterschool and summer programs, and cutting $2.4 billion from state grant programs (this will have a trickle-down impact on cities and towns)
• Cut 31 percent ($2.6 billion) from the Environmental Protection Agency, which would hold the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds level, but would discontinue the Clean Power Plan, eliminate the international climate change program and climate change research, cut $330 million from the Superfund program (which includes brownfields redevelopment), and eliminate $347 million from other EPA programs, including the Energy Star program
• Slash 5.6 percent ($2 billion) from the Department of Energy, by eliminating the Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps improve the energy efficiency of low-income households, and eliminating the State Energy Program, which supports state and local energy efficiency and renewable energy programs
• Cut $15 billion (17.9 percent) from Health and Human Services, including the elimination of LIHEAP and Community Service Block Grants
• Cut $667 million from State and Local Homeland Security grant programs (impacting the ability of local law enforcement to work with the federal government to protect communities from manmade and natural disasters), initiate a 25 percent non-federal cost match for FEMA preparedness grants (which would harm small and medium-size cities and towns that would not able to meet the cost match, thus excluding them from receiving any FEMA preparedness funding), and eliminate the National Flood Insurance Program’s Flood Hazard Mapping Program (which would put many cities and towns at risk because they rely on the maps to help build homes outside of flood zones and mitigate flood risk)
• Reduce funding for Housing and Community Development by 13.2 percent, including eliminating the Community Development Block Grant program ($3.3 billion), as well as slashing the HOME, Choice Neighborhoods, and Section 4 Capacity Building programs
• Eliminate about $700 million in spending on Department of Justice programs that support local public safety efforts, including reductions for Community Oriented Policing, State Criminal Alien Assistance, Violence Against Women, Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and other programs
• Reduce labor and workforce spending by 21 percent, eliminating Job Corps training centers for youth and cutting federal support to job training and employment services by shifting responsibility to states and local areas
• Cut transportation by 13 percent, including the removal of $499 million from the TIGER grant program, which has funded countless road and transit projects across the country since its inception in 2009
These reductions would clearly harm municipal budgets. But, most importantly, they would harm the services that cities and towns provide to build strong communities and neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for Massachusetts residents.
The MMA is working closely with the National League of Cities to oppose the CDBG cuts and to fight all the other proposed reductions to programs that benefit Massachusetts. We are fortunate to have extremely supportive representation from all of our U.S. senators and representatives, but their task is to convince colleagues from other states to join in opposition. Until Congress rejects these draconian cuts, a cloud will be hanging over public budgets all across the state.
President’s budget would harm Massachusetts
From the Beacon, April 2017