Even if the budget outline is changed significantly by Congress, there is cause for concern in Pennsylvania.
On Thursday morning, President Donald Trump released his “skinny budget,” an outline of his proposed federal funding allocations. As promised, it was skinny in every sense of the word — Trump hopes to scale federal funding way back, cutting programs and positions across the board.
Before we get to the winners and losers in Pennsylvania, one note: this budget may never see the light of day. Some congressional Republicans are calling it “dead on arrival,” and the version that passes Congress will likely look pretty different.
Still, it’s worth seeing what President Trump would do if he were given free rein on the budgeting process — and how it would impact Pennsylvania.
Loser: Appalachian Regional Commission
Trump’s budget blueprint includes a plan to zero out funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development agency that works in 13 states, including Pennsylvania. For the last 50 years, the ARC has worked on reducing poverty and unemployment in Appalachia, one of the poorest regions in the country. While some parts of coal country have managed to attract manufacturing or tech jobs, most of the region remains economically stagnant.
In 2016, 36 programs were funded through ARC in Pennsylvania. ARC funding helped build housing, start small businesses, build transportation infrastructure and train employees for advanced jobs. Last month, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf was named co-chair of the ARC for 2017, the fourth Pennsylvania governor to hold that position.
Trump won the Appalachian region with promises of jobs — something the ARC has been steadily working on for five decades — and the return of the coal industry.
Winner: Lead remediation
Trump’s budget includes $130 million for “the mitigation of lead-based paint and other hazards in low-income homes, especially those in which children reside. This also funds enforcement, education, and research activities to further support this goal.”
That’s a $20 million increase from last year’s federal funding for lead remediation, but nowhere near the amount that it would take to fully remove the threat of lead paint and lead pipes in U.S. cities.
Pennsylvania, with a large percentage of homes built before lead paint was banned in the 1970s, saw more than 13,000 children with elevated blood lead levels in 2014. Despite a recent push from state lawmakers to increase funding for lead remediation, federal funds have been drying up over the last few years.
Loser: Essential Air Service
The Essential Air Service program was developed as airlines began to centralize their routes to only profitable, high-capacity airports. Smaller, rural airports were in danger of closing, so the U.S. government decided to subsidize one or two daily flights.
In Pennsylvania, six airports recieve EAS funding: Altoona, Bradford, DuBois, Franklin/Oil City, Johnstown, and Lancaster. Trump wants to cut the funding for these airports — and 167 others nationwide — saying there is little demand for flights and they are close enough to other forms of transportation.
But cutting the EAS would require getting the support of Republicans who represent rural districts dependent on that air subsidy. Like Congressman Bill Shuster, who represents central Pennsylvania and serves as the chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee.
“Congressman Shuster’s support for the Essential Air Service program has been clear,” spokesman Casey Contres told the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. “And like he has in the past, he will continue to work to support and improve this program that small and rural communities like those in our region depend on.”
Winner: Opioid addiction treatment
While Trump hopes to slash the Department of Human Services budget by 17.9 percent, he has included a $500 million bump in funding for opioid addiction treatment compared to 2016.
There is a great deal of concern over the impact the repeal of Obamacare will have on addiction treatment, particularly as the opioid epidemic continues to spiral out of control across the country. More than 3,500 people died of drug overdoses in 2015 in Pennsylvania, a 30 percent increase from the year before.
Loser: Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
But those Department of Human Services cuts have to come from somewhere. Trump’s budget blueprint calls for the elimination of discretionary programs in the Office of Community Services in DHS. That means the popular LIHEAP program is on the chopping block.
LIHEAP funnels federal dollars to the states to help families with low-income keep the heat on during the winter. This year, Pennsylvania distributed $185 million of federal utility assistance and $380 million of funding contributed by the utility companies themselves. The program has helped hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians over the years, according to the state Department of Human Services.
Loser: Community Development Block Grants
This is a big one. The CDBG program is immensely popular, and for good reason: block grants give states and cities that receive them a high degree of autonomy in how they use them. CDBG funds are often used for city projects, like main street maintenance, or are granted to non-profits. In 2016, cities and counties in Pennsylvania received more than $169 million in CDBG funds.
CDBG is also a popular program to threaten to cut — Pennsylvania’s Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey has proposed a bill that would remove CDBG funds from cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Referring to that bill, Philip Green, corridor development co-manager for Olney’s North 5th Street Revitalization Project, told PlanPhilly in December, “There are very, very, very few funding sources available to community development nonprofits. To see block grants being cut is to see our entire sector being decimated. It’s the bread and butter all of us rely on.”
Reflecting the political divide in Pennsylvania, the commonwealth’s two senators responded very differently to the release of Trump’s budget blueprint.
In a statement, Toomey said, “President Trump’s budget blueprint proposes a significant increase in spending to strengthen national security, rebuild our neglected military, and honor our commitment to veterans with additional resources for the VA. To pay for these changes, it proposes reductions to non-defense programs. After years of overspending, I am encouraged that the President has proposed actual spending cuts and has committed to maintaining the overall cap on discretionary spending.”
Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey took a different approach, tweeting “This is just a series of broken promises to the people of PA. Where to start?” His two subsuquent Tweetstorms (#1 and #2) expressed his displeasure with the budget blueprint.