WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's budget proposal for next year again calls for drastic cuts in Great Lakes restoration efforts, as well as for slashing rental aid that tens of thousands of Michiganders rely on and toughening work requirements for able-bodied adults receiving nutrition assistance.
It also calls for investing $1.5 billion in programs that support private and charter schools while cutting about $5 billion overall from the U.S. Department of Education.
Like the budget proposal made about this time last year, Trump is looking to nearly eliminate funding for a $300-million program that helps restore Great Lakes water quality by improving fish habitat, cleaning up polluted waterways and protecting wetlands. Trump's earlier efforts to defund it have so far been rejected, as the program enjoys the support of Republicans as well as Democrats in the Upper Midwest.
Unlike last year, however, Trump's White House did not make the proposed cut — from $300 million this year to $30 million in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 — clear in its budget message or its list of major reductions and reforms, burying it in a line in a 96-page budget explanation by the Environmental Protection Agency without explanation.
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned, we can’t take it for granted that others understand how important our water is," said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. "This is outrageous. People across Michigan spoke out and took action last year to stop these cuts and I know they’ll do so again.”
Added U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, "Cutting Great Lakes investments by 90% — essentially eliminating the program — threatens the health of our lakes and jeopardizes Michigan’s economy."
Trump's budget also again looks to slash other programs considered important to Detroit and other cities in Michigan, including the Community Development Block Grant fund. But it's unlikely he will be able to push through such draconian reductions — especially given that he was unable to do so in his first year in office with members of his own Republican Party in control of both chambers of Congress..
Trump announced the $1.2-trillion budget for the next fiscal year as expected on Monday, including in it $23 billion for border security, $21 billion for infrastructure and $17 billion to fund efforts to fight the ongoing opioid epidemic, as well as substantially increasing military spending by $80 billion or 13%.
But with Congress having final say over appropriations for programs and agencies, the president's budget proposal has in recent years become more of a political statement of his own than a plan likely to be embraced by either the House or Senate.
Congress has already rejected, for now at least, many of Trump's last-year proposals such as the elimination of CDBG funds and the popular Great Lakes restoration efforts as it has cobbled together a series of resolutions to keep government funded from month-to-month in the current fiscal year.
Trump's proposal on Monday even suggested spending about $57 billion less overall on nondefense programs even though Congress authorized that higher level in a bipartisan deal — one signed off on by Trump — just last week.
"The budget reflects our commitment to the safety, prosperity and security of the American people," Trump said in his budget message to Congress. "The more room our economy has to grow, and the more American companies are freed from constricting overregulation, the stronger and safer we become as a nation."
As a policy document, however, the annual budget release still presumably indicates where the chief executive would cut or spend if he could, and he continues to have his sights set on cutting certain programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which helped feed 1.3 million people in Michigan as of December.
Trump proposed cutting back on a portion of the financial benefits received by families and sending them regular packages of milk, cereal, meat, canned fruit and other goods, saying it would save money, improve nutritional benefits and reduce fraud. His budget message also said his administration would move to expand "previous reforms aimed at strengthening the expectation for work" among SNAP recipients though details on how that would be accomplished weren't provided.
Able-bodied recipients already have some work requirements in many cases. The Trump administration suggested more than $213 billion over a decade could be saved through the president's proposed changes.
Trump's budget also calls again for eliminating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program — which helped more than 440,000 Michiganders pay home energy bills last year — and the Community Development Block Grant program, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program helps pay for home shelters, transportation services, housing rehabilitation and more. In 2017, Michigan communities received more than $111 million in CDBG funds, including $31 million for Detroit.
The budget also suggests reforms to some HUD rental assistance programs —including increasing tenants' share of rent they must pay from 30% of their income to 35%, which could save the government about $4.3 billion. The Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated last year that about 145,000 low-income households in Michigan used federal rental assistance.
An addendum to the budget suggests adding about $2 billion from the recently agreed upon budget deal in Congress back into rental assistance to keep elderly and disabled renters from getting hit with higher rents.
Meanwhile, the proposal also argues for investing $1.5 billion in school choice programs under U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, with states applying for funding for scholarships that would allow students from low-income families to transfer to private schools and local school boards requesting funding to expand "open enrollment" systems. About $500 million or more would also go to start new charter schools.
Overall the Department of Education would be cut by $5 billion or so with several programs being eliminated, including $2 billion in a grant program to the states to help improve the quality and effectiveness of teachers, principals and other educators.
The grants, the White House said, "are poorly targeted and funds are spread too thinly to have a meaningful impact on student outcomes."
“The president’s budget request expands education freedom for America’s families while protecting our nation’s most vulnerable students,” said DeVos, a former Michigan school choice advocate and state Republican Party chairwoman. "The budget also reflects our commitment to spending taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently by consolidating and eliminating duplicative and ineffective federal programs."
Trump on Monday clearly tried to steer interest toward an infrastructure proposal he argues could help attract about $1.5 trillion in new investments in roads, bridges and other projects by using $200 billion over 10 years to leverage state, local and private funding. What's unclear, however, is whether Congress would be willing to put up such funding or whether states and local governments have the matching money needed to pay for the remainder of the program.
Gov. Rick Snyder's office said he is "happy to see President Trump and his team discussing infrastructure across the board" and that he looks forward to "working with the Trump administration and serving as a role model for infrastructure development and solutions."
But it wasn't immediately clear what benefit the infrastructure proposal could mean to key Michigan projects, such as a sought-after navigation lock at Sault Ste. Marie. Shippers have been seeking a new super-size lock for decades to protect against any potential shutdown of the one aging lock there now that is large enough to handle the biggest ships carrying iron ore and other freight through the Great Lakes.
"It appears there is very little in the proposal that would benefit the Soo Lock project," Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carriers' Association, which represents shippers on the Great Lakes, said after reviewing the White House's infrastructure plan. "Nor does it seem to provide any additional funding for authorized projects such as the second (large) lock."