Last week, amid dramatic developments in Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and yet another mass shooting tragedy, the president also released his 2019 budget proposal. In many ways, it’s a sequel to last year’s — a budget that slashed funding for crucial and inexpensive programs like Meals on Wheels, PBS and the arts, all while, in 2017 alone, Trump cost taxpayers $6.6 million on his frequent trips to Mar-a-Lago, while Melania Trump’s travel fees cost $675,000.
But this year, in addition to boosting funding for targeting undocumented immigrants and expanding the military with $777 billion in new funding — as well as slashing funding for crucial environmental protection programs that will inevitably have long-term public health consequences — the budget regards the disenfranchisement and shaming of low-income children and families its top priority. That the proposal slashes funding for all core public programs like transportation and health care by roughly 40 percent in the next 10 years shows it will hurt the living standards of all Americans across the board in some ways, but its specifics show a greater agenda in play.
That is, specifically, the budget slashes funding for food assistance programs whose recipients are predominantly families with children, the elderly or people with disabilities; family planning resources that all women and in particular, low-income women and families, rely on for myriad health and economic reasons; and Medicaid and Medicare that low-income and elderly Americans rely on. In a particularly cruel twist considering last week’s school shooting in Florida that killed 17, the budget recklessly slashes funding for counselors and violence prevention programs for schools by $25 million (36%). In other words, the budget goes to bizarre, creative lengths to not only humiliate and degrade poor American families but also endanger all American children in one of the greatest, most ironic hypocrisies of Trump and his party’s promise to honor “family values.”
Of course, the term “family values” has largely been hijacked by the right wing in recent years to be a polite way of packaging anti-LGBTQ discrimination, puritanical misogyny, and traditional (read: sexist) gender roles. But let’s make one thing clear: If you think boosting funding for rounding up and separating undocumented immigrants from their families is a manifestation of “family values,” but providing basic, necessary resources for low-income families is not, maybe you don’t actually care about families all that much.
In too many ways to count, the proposal is a disaster for the American family in all its diverse forms. Put simply; no one can support it and claim to be a supporter of “family values.”
A Disaster For The Food And Housing Insecure
In the next decade, Trump’s budget proposal would reduce the budget the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by roughly $213 billion, cutting it by about 30 percent. According to the latest numbers, more than 44 million Americans participate in SNAP to eat and provide food for their families, and of those 44 million, almost 70 percent are children, senior citizens or people with disabilities. Many adults relying on SNAP have children to feed and care for, and the program is absolutely crucial to reducing poverty and alleviating economic inequality.
According to the Urban Institute, in 2015 alone, SNAP helped reduce the poverty rate from 15.4 to 12.8 percent, and also reduced the poverty gap—defined as “the aggregate amount of additional income required to remove all poor families from poverty“— by $35 billion, or by 21 percent, also in 2015. In this sense, SNAP had crucial, long-term benefits in terms of uplifting disadvantaged families and helping to address intergenerational poverty that Trump’s budget will cruelly undercut.
The budget aims to make these cuts by revamping the program so that instead of receiving money on Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to pay for food and groceries, SNAP participants will receive delivered packages of select food products. In other words, according to President Trump, poor people either can’t be trusted or are unworthy of the dignity of choosing what to eat. This is about more than policy, and certainly about more than saving the government money. It’s about reducing low-income Americans to second-class citizens, and never ceding an opportunity to degrade, humiliate and remind them of their status.
Under this budget, many hungry Americans would likely be left behind due to its dramatic and inhumane funding cuts for SNAP. This would be a tragedy even if all of those Americans were able-bodied adults. But the fact that many are children, the elderly or people with disabilities, that many families will collectively be unable to set their tables with food, really only adds to the tragedy.
Children And Poor People’s Health At Stake
Last year, the Republican Congress allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program through which 9 million children have health insurance to expire. Since, they’ve done nothing but use these children’s lives and welfare as bargaining chips to push Democrats to relent on DACA. Trump’s budget takes things a step further by cutting $550 billion from Medicare and $250 billion from Medicaid, two programs the president promised to protect while on the campaign trail, essentially following last year’s Graham-Cassidy Obamacare repeal bill.
The budget operates as if the Affordable Care Act and its expansions of Medicaid and Medicare are nonexistent, and in doing so, thousands if not millions of Americans could lose their insurance, and as a result of this and being unable to afford certain resources and services, according to the Congressional Budget Office, thousands could die.
The Affordable Care Act and, more than anything, its emphasis on Medicaid, gave low-income families across the country access to health insurance that they lacked before. The result was an overall healthier nation, with research showing immigrants and people of color were Obamacare’s top beneficiaries.
Thus, it’s clear that in the absence of the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid funding that made insurance plans on the market possible, families across the country—and disproportionately immigrant families and families of color—could lose access to affordable basic health care. The simple reality is that the military and separating immigrant families are more important to this administration than low-income Americans and their families being able to afford health care.
Any lives lost or other tragedies that often go hand-in-hand with being unable to afford basic medical services and resources should be on the conscience of President Trump and the Republican-dominated Congress that enables him.
And yet, tragically enough, drastically cutting funding for health care for children and low-income Americans isn’t even as low as the budget goes. Additionally, Trump’s proposal calls for cutting $25 million in funds for national school safety activities, in addition to cutting a $400 million grant program that schools often use for anti-bullying programming or mental health assistance, that is often crucial to either de-escalate violence or help students recover from tragedies like the Parkland shooting.
The Parkland shooting, like the many tragedies that preceded it, exposed the potential for danger at schools across the country, and has left students and their families with fresh and justified uncertainty about whether our schools are safe. If anything, in addition to common sense gun control laws that keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people and could easily have prevented the Parkland shooting—and many others—we should be investing more into school safety programming. It’s the least the government can provide if our many lawmakers who are shamelessly owned by the NRA continue to fail American children and families, and continue to allow such tragedies to happen.
An Attack On Low-Income Women’s Reproductive Health
Attacks on Medicaid will do more than strip many low-income families of health insurance—they’ll also substantially affect the state of reproductive health care in this country, particularly for lower-income women. One in five American women—that’s 16.6 million—rely on Medicaid for health insurance. Medicaid covers an estimated half of all births in the United States.
In addition to this, the budget proposal would essentially defund Planned Parenthood, just one month after President Trump began applying pressure on state governments to defund the women’s health organization. The budget prohibits Planned Parenthood from benefiting from Medicaid or Title X, and as a result, hundreds of thousands of women could lose access to birth control, STD testing and treatment, and other crucial reproductive health care services that are essential to safe family planning.
According to Planned Parenthood, about 80 percent of its millions of patients nationwide rely on the organization for birth control, and with the rise of unintended pregnancies that’s certain to occur in the absence of affordable, accessible birth control, all credible research suggests more abortions will likely occur, too.
The same could easily be said of the budget proposal’s defunding of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which provides objective, fact-based sexual health education to 1.2 million teens across the country. Unplanned pregnancies cost taxpayers an average of $21 billion every year, and sans access to both birth control and sex ed, those rates will almost definitely rise—consider how states with laws requiring abstinence-only sex ed have higher rates of teen pregnancy. And the burden will fall on the Trump administration to explain the inevitable higher national abortion to its “family values”-loving base.
The budget and its attacks on women’s health follow the Health and Human Services Department’s recent reversal on the ACA’s contraceptive mandate, which granted cost-free birth control to 55 million American women, and saved women an estimated $1.4 billion annually. Notably, women rely on birth control not only for the obviously important motivator that is avoiding unintended pregnancy, but also for myriad other reasons related to health, safety and economic enfranchisement.
Pregnancy is not something that young women focusing on their educations, careers or how to make ends meet and help support themselves or their families should have to worry about. Unequal access to this crucial women’s health resource promotes long-term inequality for women of different economic backgrounds.
Historically, in the United States, immigrant families were far less likely to be able to access and afford contraception, and the economic strain of providing for children they couldn’t afford entrapped many in poverty for generations. With the increased economic constraints that Trump’s budget proposal places on contraception and basic reproductive health education, we’ll be taking a dangerous step backward.
Successful Or Not, The Budget Is Deeply Damaging
Pundits are already speculating about the likeliness—or lack thereof—that the budget will pass Congress, considering the alarming and immediate changes it would make to major public programs. But the budget is damaging nonetheless in its stigmatization of poor families, sending the message that they are somehow unfit to choose their own meals, that lack of income somehow makes children and adults unworthy of basic, life-saving health care, and that poor people’s lives are expendable so that we can continue to pump additional billions into our military.
In many ways, this is more of the same from a party that has seen its stars like former Congressman Jason Chaffetz blame poor Americans’ inability to afford health care on buying iPhones, and House Speaker Paul Ryan tout a secretary earning an extra $1.50 per week due to the GOP tax cuts as a miracle of generosity. The expectation is that poor people must suffer unduly and be humiliated in order to “prove” that they are poor enough to receive marginal help, if they receive any at all; and there is no exception made to this rule, even for families with children.
In America, poverty disproportionately affects people of color, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people and other groups subject to discrimination and intergenerational struggles. But the causes of poverty are never discussed and certainly not acknowledged in Republican politics, with Trump’s budget proposal serving as the latest example of this. Encoded in GOP politics is an agenda of blaming, shaming and, ultimately, punishing poor people. That this budget will target children, in particular, makes the extent of its cruelty all the more stark, and all the more damaging.
The measure of any country’s greatness should always be whether or not it’s fulfilling its obligations to and taking care of its most vulnerable.
Trump’s budget is disgraceful in its objective failure to do so; it’s become all too clear that when he promised to “make America great again” on the campaign trail, he was speaking to a select few—and very wealthy—group of Americans, that certainly didn’t include low-income families.
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