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Trump Budget Continues Squeezing NDD Programs with Unmet Needs

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As our recent paper shows, tight annual appropriations caps and sequestration budget cuts on top of them for the last seven years have caused a considerable decline in non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs, which range from education and scientific research to public health, housing assistance, and basic government operations. In this paper, which we released before President Trump unveiled his 2018 budget, we gave 12 examples of the significant shortfalls that these years of austerity have produced.

The Trump budget would intensify the NDD squeeze by cutting funding by $57 billion next year and even more over the next decade — worsening or inadequately addressing the shortfalls in 2018 in all 12 areas we examined. Here’s how the Trump budget would affect funding in those same 12 areas. (The figures below aren’t adjusted for inflation, unless otherwise noted.)

  • Child care. The budget cuts discretionary funding for the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) — a major source of child care assistance for low-income working families — below the 2017 level. Even now, fewer than 1 in 6 children eligible for CCDF-funded assistance receive it due to insufficient funding.
  • Job training. The budget cuts core job training grants that the Labor Department administers — which help disadvantaged adult job seekers, workers who have lost their jobs, and unemployed youth — by a staggering 40 percent. It also cuts Education Department programs that provide vocational training and basic skills needed for employment: career and technical education by 13 percent, adult education by 16 percent.
  • Social Security Administration operations. SSA would receive an increase of less than $100 million for core administrative functions, which isn’t enough to offset inflation — let alone reverse the 11 percent cut over the last seven years (after adjusting for inflation). Underfunding would continue to hamper SSA’s ability to address its rising workload, which has reached record highs as baby boomers age and the numbers of applicants and beneficiaries grow.
  • Water treatment. The budget provides no funding boost for two major Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs that help localities upgrade and replace aging drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure, and it zeroes out smaller grants for special projects — even though total EPA water infrastructure appropriations are 35 percent below the 2001 level, after adjusting for inflation. The budget also eliminates the Agriculture Department’s rural water program, which helps communities with less financial and technical capacity that would otherwise have trouble financing necessary investments.
  • Housing assistance. The budget cuts federal rental assistance, even though 3 in 4 eligible households receive no assistance due to funding limitations. It eliminates housing vouchers for more than 250,000 low-income households, increasing homelessness and other hardships for seniors, people with disabilities, and working families with children. It also slashes public housing, homeless assistance, and community development.
  • Elementary and secondary education. The budget cuts the Education Department’s elementary and secondary programs by $4 billion, eliminating various grants, including aid to after-school programs in high-need schools. Funding for two main grants — Title I grants to local schools (which support low-income students) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants (which help cover special education services) — would also fall below 2017 levels.
  • Head Start. The budget cuts Head Start slightly below its 2017 level, even though current funding is insufficient to give all eligible children access to high-quality early education. The budget also eliminates federal grants that help states and localities provide preschool for low-income 4-year-olds.
  • Internal Revenue Service. The budget cuts overall IRS funding and cuts IRS tax enforcement by 4 percent, reducing full-time enforcement staff by more than 1,000 and further straining the agency’s efforts to go after tax cheats. Cutting enforcement is penny-wise and pound-foolish: as the budget documents themselves say, “resources invested in the IRS increase revenue collections,” by an estimated $5 for every additional $1 invested.
  • Humanitarian aid. The budget cuts international development and humanitarian assistance programs by a whopping 43 percent, even though the United States already ranks far below other developed countries in international development assistance as a share of the economy.
  • National parks. Large construction projects in national parks would get a small funding boost, but inadequate to address the $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance. Also, the budget cuts funding for smaller projects, ongoing maintenance, personnel, and other operating costs by 8 percent, though the number of park visitors is at its highest level since 2001.
  • Tribal schools. The budget cuts construction funding for Bureau of Indian Education schools, which face a $600 million backlog of deferred maintenance, by 40 percent.
  • Census. The budget’s 2 percent increase in Census Bureau funding is far too small to enable the bureau to prepare adequately for the 2020 census. (Previous increases in the eighth year of the ten-year census cycle have ranged from 61 to 96 percent.) Funding shortfalls have already forced the bureau to delay, curtail, or cancel many activities to prepare for the census.

The Trump budget would deepen the current austerity in non-defense appropriations by continuing to underfund or cut a broad range of important federal investments. Policymakers should reject this approach. Instead, they should provide at least partial sequestration relief, in equal amounts, to both defense and non-defense, as they’ve done in every year since sequestration was imposed.