‘Slash and Burn’ — Rural Advocates Respond to Trump Budget Proposal

The president’s budget proposal has prompted a storm of press releases, position statements, and pronouncements from nonprofit, legislative, and farm leaders around the country. Groups have described Trump's budget as "indifferent," "draconian," "extreme," and "dangerous."

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The president’s proposed budget proposal that was released yesterday contains large cuts in rural development funding, education, agricultural subsidies, soil conservation, housing, and many other programs. Here is a roundup of statements, pro and con, from organizations with a stake in the results of the budget debate and some of the people who will help shape the budget in Congress.

Land Tawney, CEO and President, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

The administration’s budget starves our public lands of critical funding. The cuts they would levy on our natural resource agencies, resource professionals and key programs are unprecedented and far-reaching in scope: Not only would they profoundly diminish our lands and waters, fish and wildlife habitat, and outdoor opportunities; they also would hobble America’s potent outdoors economy – currently $887 billion strong, sustainable and growing.

On his first day at Interior, Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order calling for the expansion of public access and hunting and fishing opportunities on U.S. public lands – an action we applauded. Today, only weeks later, we are confused by the drastic cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has done more to facilitate public access opportunities to hunt, fish and otherwise enjoy the great outdoors than any other federal program in history. The proposed budget flies in the face of what sportsmen and women need and want most: access.

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Jacqueline Cooper, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO)

While we applaud the administration’s efforts to expand parental choice options for our nation’s children, including increased spending for public charter schools, a new private school voucher program, making $1 billion within Title I of ESSA available for students to attend the school of their choice, and an education tax credit program that will be part of future tax reform, the slashing of $9 billion – or 13 percent  – from the Department of Education’s overall budget is an awfully painful way to put families and children first.

If passed by Congress, these draconian cuts to public education will undoubtedly hurt our most vulnerable children…

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Brent Van Dyke, president, National Association of Conservation Districts

We are very concerned that the president’s budget calls for privatizing conservation planning. The need for conservation assistance is so immense across the country, it will take every dollar from both the public and the private sectors to get the job done.

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Whitney Kimball Coe, coordinator of the National Rural Assembly

If a budget is a reflection of values and priorities, then it is safe to assume that President Donald Trump sees little value in investing in rural people and places.

The President’s detailed budget for 2018 aggressively undermines rural opportunity and progress. This budget would eliminate or cut back programs that support rural vitality, from affordable housing to early-childhood education to the care and feeding of our country’s most vulnerable. Mr. Trump’s budget prioritizes tax give-aways for the wealthiest and increases in defense spending over hungry kids and clean drinking water, which is in direct opposition to the proposition that a healthy, educated, and vital population is our best defense against harmful forces, both foreign and domestic.

If enacted, this budget would harm rural and tribal communities and families and weaken the overall health of the nation.

Disclosure: The National Rural Assembly is administered by the Center for Rural Strategies, which also publishes the Daily Yonder.

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U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair, House Education & Workforce Committee

Students, workers, and small businesses cannot succeed in an economy that is crippled by too much government and too much debt. …

For too many years, the federal government has not lived within its means because policymakers have not set real priorities. The president’s budget proposal reflects the consequences of this failed approach, as well as the urgent need for tough choices and bold solutions to pursue a more responsible course.

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Joint statement of U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chair of the Senate Ag Committee, and U.S. Representative K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), chair, House Committee on Agriculture:

We support the Trump administration’s goal of achieving three percent economic growth for our nation. USDA’s latest estimates find agriculture, food, and related industries contribute $992 billion to our economy. As we debate the budget and the next Farm Bill, we will fight to ensure farmers have a strong safety net so this key segment of our economy can weather current hard times and continue to provide all Americans with safe, affordable food. Also, as a part of Farm Bill discussions, we need to take a look at our nutrition assistance programs to ensure that they are helping the most vulnerable in our society.

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U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry

The proposed cuts to important farm and family safety net programs, including crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are harsh and short sighted. By zeroing out critical funding for rural infrastructure and job-creating programs, the budget proposal neglects the needs of every small town in rural America.

In the last Farm Bill, we passed bipartisan reforms that saved taxpayers billions more than expected.  If enacted, this proposal would make it nearly impossible for Congress to pass a new Farm Bill and provide farmers, families, and rural communities with the certainty and support they need.

I am also concerned this budget request does not come close to meeting the needs of our financial regulators, like the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. If we are serious about having financial markets that work for our nation’s farmers, manufacturers, and consumers, we need a strong, effective cop on the beat.

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U.S. Senator Angus King (R-Maine)

Cutting funding to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) would have directly hampered Maine’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic at a time when we can ill-afford to do so. In fact, we should be investing more in supporting states as they seek to help those struggling with addiction, not less. I am glad that, following bipartisan calls from me and my colleagues, the Administration has come to recognize the value of ONDCP and preserved the vast majority of its funding. Doing so will allow Maine and states around the country to extend a helping hand to more people in need and save lives.

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Anna Johnson, policy associate, Center for Rural Affairs

The president’s budget demonstrates President Trump’s lack of understanding and prioritization of the struggles of rural communities. Although President Trump won the presidency with broad support from rural voters, his budget proposes to zero out several programs that address the challenges of rural communities. …

[Regarding restructuring of USDA to eliminate the Undersecretary for Rural Development position:] He has described it as an “elevation” of this function, but this promise rings hollow given the level of proposed funding cuts to rural development programs.

Although many farmers and ranchers would like to enroll in conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, they face regular bottlenecks when local conservation offices are understaffed or overburdened, The president’s proposal to reduce funding for conservation programs and for local conservation staff would increase the backlog of conservation program delivery.

President Trump came to the presidency with the stated goal of “draining the swamp” and cutting federal spending. Instead, the new administration’s first budget proposal would drain support for rural America. We fear that these actions represent a lack of understanding of rural voters’ struggles.

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Tom Colicchio, food advocate, chef, and co-founder of Food Policy Action

The president has proposed a radical and extreme cut to one of the most successful and efficient nutrition programs in America. Over 40 million Americans depend on SNAP to put food on the table every month and a 25 percent cut means millions of them would simply not have enough to eat. Americans don’t support a slash and burn approach to food stamps — in fact, by huge margins they think SNAP benefits should be increased, not radically cut. We are distressed at the misplaced priorities of this administration, which are out of sync with the needs and values of Americans. This budget is bad for families struggling to get enough to eat, it’s bad for our communities and in the end will be bad for the American economy.”

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Roger Johnson, president, National Farmers Union

The president’s proposed budget is an assault on the programs and personnel that provide vital services, research, and a safety net to America’s family farmers, rural residents and consumers. It is deeply disappointing that the president would propose such cuts, especially in the midst of a farm crisis that has family farmers and ranchers enduring a drastic, four-year slide in farm prices and a 50 percent drop in net farm income.

The proposal slashes crop insurance by $29 billion, conservation programs by $6 billion, and SNAP by $191 billion, in addition to $3 billion in cuts to other farm programs. Such cuts would leave farmers, ranchers, and consumers without an effective safety net, and would make passing a new Farm Bill almost certainly impossible.

The proposal also continues the $4.7 billion cut to USDA that was proposed by the administration in March. This huge cut to discretionary spending would put rural development, conservation and research programs on the chopping block.

In addition to cuts to farm and rural programs, the president’s proposal stands to worsen access to healthcare for rural residents. The proposed $800 billion cut to Medicaid would disproportionately impact rural residents who enroll in the program at a higher rate than their urban counterparts.

NFU calls on Congress to reject these budget cuts and adopt funding levels that ensure the success and vibrancy of farming communities and rural America.

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National Cooperative Business Association

The Trump Administration’s $4.1 trillion 2018 detailed budget … proposes deep cuts to or entirely eliminates programs essential to domestic and international cooperative development.

Although it is not expected to survive scrutiny by lawmakers, the proposal puts numbers on the Trump administration’s priorities of defense and homeland security—often at the expense of foreign aid, which the budget slashes by more than a third.

The budget also dissolves Rural Business and Cooperative Service, which creates rural economic opportunity, spurs job growth and administers the Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program.

Alan Knapp, NCBA CLUSA’s Vice President of Advocacy, said:

While we’re disappointed in the priorities outlined in the budget proposal, NCBA CLUSA is confident that Congress will ultimately recognize the value of cooperative development Now is the time to throw all of our energy and resources into highlighting, defending and ensuring the continuation of the good work cooperatives and their members do.”

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Jeanne Allen, CEO, Center for Education Reform

The president’s budget is neither offensive nor unfair. It contains some recognition that the federal government’s efforts should follow state and local efforts and not further federal programs that fail to advance or transform learning.

The real question today, and always, should be: “How does federal spending better enable and advance critical educational opportunities for students?”

Do programs support the many state and local approaches to fueling improved teaching and learning, or do they exist merely for their own sake, independent of state action, born of, and protected by, interest groups?

Federal education programs for primary and secondary grades represent only a fraction of total K-12 and supplemental spending – funding programs that, over time, have had mixed reviews. Those who gain from those programs always argue that the funds are “necessary” regardless of their effectiveness.

… Instead of focusing on budgetary line items, we should be working to redefine Washington’s role in creating paths that lead to education innovation and in carving out opportunities to match each student’s needs with the institutions or learning environments that best suit them….

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Moises Loza, Housing Assistance Council 

I have worked in rural housing since 1973 and I have never seen a budget proposal that is indifferent to the needs of the most vulnerable rural people. Until now.

Vast proposed cuts to federal housing programs couple with a wholesale ripping of the social safety net for the most vulnerable. The budget strikes particularly at tribal and rural communities. Many of these communities, in decline for decades, are now awash in a national opioid crisis and are far-removed from Wall Street’s economic recovery. The budget falls hardest on those whom HAC’s partners serve: the elderly and/or disabled, often with incomes of $15,000 per year or less. Eliminating housing, food, and related assistance for vulnerable rural people destabilizes communities and upends families.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Housing Service—a linchpin of rural affordable housing built on public-private partnerships—would become a shell of its former self under the budget proposal. Doing away with rural housing, water, sewer, and other rural development mainstays would derail decades of infrastructure investment, particularly in rural counties mired in persistent poverty. Though much work remains, investments in rural America have improved the quality of life for millions.

Today’s budget proposal sends a message to the nation: Rural America is not worthy of investment.

 

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