Safety net and social welfare programs are under fire in the Trump administration’s budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year. While the administration touts the budget as restoring American economic prosperity and slashing the federal deficit, the burden of this falls on low-income and hungry Americans. Over the next 15-years, the 2021 fiscal budget attempts a $4.4 trillion decline in spending to reduce the federal deficit. This decline in spending means cuts to the Social Security Disability Insurance program, the Environmental Protection Agency, Medicaid, SNAP, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Commerce Department, and U.S. foreign aid. Moreover, several programs within each of these will be getting the ax if the Trump administration has its way.
So what will be getting a boost? Under this proposed budget, the Department of Homeland Security will see a 3.2% increase in its budget after requests for a longer border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border; and more detention centers and enforcers. Likewise, the budget includes an increase in spending on nuclear security by 19%, despite the proposed 28.7% cut to nonnuclear programs within the Energy Department. There are some interesting initiatives within the budget, however, such as the creation of a separate Center for Tobacco Products and increased aid for Veterans Affairs to fund suicide prevention and opioid addiction services. Therefore, within the abundance of cuts, there is some hope, but a majority of these additions are aimed at immigration and military spending.
Prior to getting into the nitty-gritty of the budget, it is important to note that this is only a proposed budget, not the final product. Consequently, any worries about the deductions and cuts within this proposal must be taken with a grain of salt, as they are not permanent and it is unlikely that a majority of these cuts will make it through Congress.
The Trump administration’s budget changes for the Social Security program are aimed at reducing benefits for disabled workers, not retirement benefits. Therefore, the monthly checks that Americans receive through Social Security are not up for debate. Rather, the benefits provided to about 8.5 million disabled workers are at risk. The Social Security Disability Insurance program protects millions of workers of all ages, including about 4.2 million children who receive payments from the program because one or more of their parents either died, became disabled, or retired. The 2021 budget would trim spending by about $45 billion on Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income through return-to-work programs, which assumes that 5% of disabled workers will return to the workforce. This logic fails to consider that most workers who qualify for disability cannot return to the labor market, meaning they would be losing their income.
Environmental Protection Agency
Some of the deepest cuts were reserved for the EPA, which faces a 26% reduction in funding, as well as the elimination of 50 programs that have been deemed “wasteful.” According to a New York Times article, the 2021 fiscal budget proposes $6.7 billion in total EPA spending, which would shrink the budget to funding levels that the agency saw during the 1990s. The Trump administration claims that these cuts will refocus the EPA on its core functions, such as addressing lead exposure in water and revitalizing toxic cleanup sites. A flaw in this budget is that it assumes air pollutant emissions have dropped from 2016 to 2018, however, federal data has shown that the fine particulate pollution has, in fact, increased over the past two years. For that reason, funding for environmental initiatives should be increased, not reduced. Instead, the Trump administration proposes cuts to research on carbon capture techniques and other environmentally-friendly technology.
President Trump has continuously promised to leave Medicaid untouched, however, the budget proposal contains numerous changes that reduce spending on the program. These changes include mandatory work requirements and asset tests for Medicaid beneficiaries, as well as requiring states to verify eligibility for the program more frequently. These particular policies have been shown to decrease enrollment, which ultimately takes away health care for many struggling and disabled Americans.
Food Stamps and SNAP
Once again, the Trump administration has suggested cutting funds for America’s primary food assistance program and reducing the number of adults who can qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. There have already been several changes within the administration, such as a requirement of at least 20 hours of work or training to qualify for benefits. Likewise, the “Harvest Box” proposal has returned, in which Americans who receive SNAP benefits get a portion of their benefit in a harvest box of food preselected for nutritional value and economic benefit to American farmers. This idea has faced backlash because the food would be chosen by the federal government, rather than consumers.
The proposed budget contains cuts for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including programs that help pay rent for low-income families. This will ultimately amount to a 15.2% decrease in funding compared to 2020. Likewise, the Choice Neighborhoods Program, which gives grants to neighborhoods with deteriorating public and federally-assisted housing, will be eliminated. The justification for cuts to HUD funding is based on the idea that the programs are not as effective as they could be, and the money can be better used elsewhere. Likewise, the budget implies that state and local governments are better equipped to revitalize neighborhoods than the federal government
Department of Commerce
Like the EPA, the Commerce Department is facing steep cuts in the 2021 budget proposal. The budget slashes discretionary funding of the Commerce Department by more than 37%, which is unfortunate because this money is used to collect economic data, promote exposures, issue patents, monitor the weather, and more. For the second year in a row, President Trump is asking Congress to eliminate the Economic Development Administration, which distributes $300 million annually to promote economic development in local communities, however, the administration claims its efforts have had “negligible measurable impacts.” A Washington Post article highlights that the department’s priorities would include accelerating its review of requests for exclusions from the president’s import tariffs, the development of new weather satellites, and broader mapping of the U.S. offshore economic zone.
A majority of the provisions within the budget for foreign aid are focused on decreasing the United States’ contribution internationally. For example, contributions to peacekeeping efforts by the United Nations would be cut by $447 million and the United States’ annual contribution to the UN would be cut by $508 million overall. These cuts to U.S. aid reflect the administration’s push for other countries and NGOs to step up their donations, as the Trump administration frequently complains that the United States pays 22% of the UN annual budget.
According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, the budget requests $2 billion to build an additional 82 miles of the wall along the Mexican border. The administration has already completed 120 miles and is rushing to complete 450 miles by 2021. Alongside border wall funding, the budget requests $182 million to hire 750 Border Patrol agents, as well as an additional $544 million to hire more than 4,600 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and prosecutors. These proposals reflect the desire to crack down on illegal immigration and expand detention centers for immigrants.
The 2021 fiscal budget proposal is incredibly complex, with expansions and cuts across all federal departments and initiatives. However, the hardest blows fall on the social safety net and welfare programs. Although this budget has a small chance of approval, the administration’s priorities are loud and clear. Within each cut, the harm is shocking, however, the sum of reductions aimed at safety net programs is devastating. Likewise, cuts for environmental and economic development initiatives face harsh consequences. Programs involving stricter immigration policy, military advancements, and development despite the environmental costs are seeing unbelievable expansion. The budget always needs to find a balance between important spending and reducing the federal deficit, however, this administration has truly missed the mark in its 2021 proposal.