Trump’s $4.1T budget would slash aid in state

Published 7:42 am Thursday, May 25, 2017

By Maya Rao

Minneapolis Star Tribune

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s $4.1 trillion federal budget proposal, released Tuesday, would vastly reshape the federal government’s funding of health care, food stamps, and an array of programs that aid hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans.

The proposal also excludes further federal funding for the $1.9 billion Southwest Light Rail Transit project, by only paying for transit projects that already have a “Full Funding Grant Agreement” in place with the federal government. The Southwest project does not.

“Tackling wasteful spending is one of the main reasons why I came to Washington,” said U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, the Republican from Minnesota’s Second Congressional District. Lewis noted that he recently wrote to Trump’s budget director and the Transportation secretary asking that the Southwest project not be funded any further.

Even as some Republicans balk at the proposed reductions, it offers a starting point to a budget debate that will unfold over the coming months, and test how deeply Republicans are committed to cutting spending. For now, its proposed deep cuts to safety-net programs has advocates in Minnesota alarmed.

About 400,000 Minnesotans rely on food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). The new Republican administration is proposing to cut it by 29 percent.

The White House says it aims to get more able-bodied people off the program in response to an economy on the rebound since the last recession. That would put heavy new pressure on food shelves and the state’s health care system, said Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota.

“It’s a domino effect,” she said.

She noted that Minnesota food shelves already receive 3 million visits a year, and that the majority of SNAP recipients work. She and others who work with Minnesota’s food aid programs say there’s still a high demand for services, as the low-income population that relies on SNAP hasn’t seen the same employment gains as higher-income groups since the financial crisis.

Trump’s spending blueprint also sets a clash with the next federal farm bill, due for renewal in 2018. It would cut $231 billion in all from farm programs over the next decade — in addition to the food stamp cuts, it would cut federal crop insurance by more than one-third.

The proposal “should be of concern to all rural Americans,” said Minnesota U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. That will make him a key figure in the looming debate; Peterson has been a vigorous defender of crop insurance as a vital safety net for farmers.

“Going down this path all but guarantees there will be no new farm bill,” Peterson said.

Trump’s proposal will get its first hearing on Wednesday before the House Budget Committee, where Lewis is Minnesota’s sole member.

Minnesota Democrats lambasted the spending plan for cutting too deeply into social programs.

Trump’s budget “is a cruel and reckless plan that benefits billionaires, punishes the vulnerable and abandons working families and small businesses,” said U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum.

The budget would cut $627 billion from Medicaid, which provides health insurance for the poor, on top of $839 billion in reductions from the Affordable Health Care Act, the GOP-backed bill that passed the House this month. The Minnesota Hospital Association has opposed the legislation, and is generally against cutting Medicaid, but refrained from strongly coming out against Trump’s budget.

“It does not seem that this budget is going to be well-received by Congress,” said Wendy Burt, vice president of public relations and communications for the association. “So I think it’s more of a political statement about the president’s agenda than something that is going to move through Congress in its entirety.”

Disability benefits

The hospital association plans to focus more on fighting the Affordable Health Care Act as it receives consideration in the Senate. The group visited Washington this month to meet with the congressional delegation about its opposition to the measure.

Trump’s budget would also reduce $72 billion in disability benefits.

“We’re very much concerned about what’s coming out of Washington,” said Steve Larson, senior policy director of the Arc Minnesota, a nonprofit advocacy group for people with disabilities. Massive cuts to Medicaid “could be life-threatening for a number of people.”

The organization is planning a series of community meetings to talk about Medicaid, which covers 1 million people in Minnesota.

Trump’s plan also singles out Planned Parenthood funding for elimination, a first for a presidential budget proposal. The Planned Parenthood that serves Minnesota and the Dakotas described the measure as devastating to the health of women, especially those who are poor, because it would coincide with broader cuts to Medicaid and other services. Fifty-five percent of Planned Parenthood’s Minnesota clinics are in rural and medically underserved areas.

“In those areas in particular, cutting off access to Planned Parenthood is sometimes cutting off access to the only provider that a person can see in their town,” said communications director Jen Aulwes.