The Trump Heartless Housing and Transportation Budgets

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On this St. Patrick’s Day I’m remembering my Irish grandmother who passed away about a year ago. She was tender toward those she loved and also had grit.

She volunteered for Meals on Wheels as part of her life’s philosophy to help the less fortunate. It’s a program at the heart of a lot of families—those who want to give and those who need to receive.

For me, as it is for so many others I see commenting on social media, President Trump’s plan to eliminate this simple and effective program is emblematic of the values that underpin the whole “skinny budget” (more like a starvation budget, as a colleague quipped) proposed by Trump. This budget is compassion-free and myopic.

Meals on Wheels gets chopped as part of the elimination of Community Development Block Grants, which fund a host of locally driven initiatives, including this volunteer-supported one. These grants are allocated to struggling communities across the country based on a formula that helps determine which are most poverty-stricken and therefore in need of aid. This is the kind of program that should be supported on both sides of the aisle. They are block grants, giving flexibility vis-à-vis their use by local jurisdictions. Despite what OMB Director Mike Mulvaney claims, there’s evidence of the effectiveness of programs such as Meals on Wheels (as my grandmother would remind us).

These grants benefited 9.8 million people in 2013 alone, as the author of this piece challenging Secretary Ben Carson to push back against the proposal notes. These cuts—and several others in the proposed budget—are justified by claiming locals and states can pick up the tab, but the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) notes that this is a tough time to push these costs on to states. And the costs are large, as you can see if you scroll down to table 1 in this CBPP blog entry. My home state of Maryland alone would have to cope with a $45 million cut in block granting in 2018 alone. How would your state fare?

Other proposed cuts are similarly wrongheaded.

For example, the oversubscribed Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program leverages taxpayer dollars by granting them competitively, based on performance criteria, as noted by an economist who worked in the Obama Administration. Similarly, the highly competitive, performance-based Capital Investment Grants or New Starts program launches new bus and rail lines in communities nationwide. As Yonah Freemark notes, the proposed budget would threaten such projects nationwide. This is a slap in the face to the many communities that have voted to raise local funding to match federal investments.

And as astute analysts have pointed out here and here, these cuts fall hardest on many of those in rural and struggling towns who voted for President Trump. Those that slash investments in infrastructure also betray his promise to boost that by $1 trillion.

Taking a sledgehammer to these important programs was justified in part by the terse claim that this is a “hard power,” not a “soft power” budget.

That is telling. It reminds me of the first economics book that really grabbed me—former Federal Reserve economist Alan Blinder’s Hard Heads, Soft Hearts: Tough Economics for A Just Society. In the book, Blinder advocates for a hybrid of hard-headedness and soft-heartedness—compassion wedded with a practical approach to economics.

Fiscally, this budget is hard-hearted. Where a scalpel might be in order, it uses a butcher knife. And where program improvements might be warranted, this budget simply waves an axe around indiscriminately.

At least one administration spokesperson says this is a “marker” and won’t be the final budget. And no doubt it is—as it should be—dead on arrival in Congress, where the budget really gets cobbled together.

But it is a shameful marker. Since budgets make values visible it lays bare the damaging agenda of this Administration. Time to honor my Irish roots by joining housing and transportation advocates in the fight against this wholly heartless budget proposal

About the Authors

Deron Lovaas

Senior Policy Adviser, Urban Solutions

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