The preliminary budget released by the Trump Administration provides a good picture of how the Administration would cut federal programs, if allowed to do so by Congress and the public. While not final until enacted, this budget document deserves serious examination, especially given the Administration’s promises to reduce federal employment, cut taxes, restrict regulatory agencies, and otherwise “drain the swamp.”
State and local governments, including Falls Church, will likely be affected significantly. This article explores possible impacts of these cuts, focusing on three areas targeted by the Administration for reform: the environment, transportation, and human services.
The Trump Administration comes down particularly hard on environmental programs, slashing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency categorical grants to the states by $482 million. For example, air quality grants would be cut 45 percent, and drinking water grants by 30 percent. The region’s Chesapeake Bay Program would be reduced from $73 million to $5 million, costing Virginia $9.3 million. Civil enforcement of efforts to protect the environment would be cut by 11 percent. Specific research programs would be reduced 50 percent in one case, 30 percent in another. The proposed federal budget eliminates funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs, and climate change research.
The Trump budget further decimates or destroys environmental programs in other agencies. For example, the Administration eliminates the Earth Science Research mission and grants under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program would not exist, if Congress adopts the budget as proposed.
In my view, this approach forces the funding of critically important public health spending downstream to already strapped state and local budgets. If states and localities cannot replace these funds, we run the very real risk of negating long-term efforts to provide clean air and water.
Overall, the Trump budget cuts U.S. Department of Transportation funding by 13 percent. It eliminates funding for many new transit projects, including those planned for the Washington Metropolitan area, and reduces support for Amtrak. The budget also cuts $499 million from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program, which has funded many regional projects.
These cuts would make any new initiatives difficult, including Bus Rapid Transit on Route 7 that would significantly reduce congestion and offer our City more transportation options and economic development. These cuts also land in the middle of ongoing transit funding reductions by Virginia—among them, the failure to enact a floor on the regional gas tax supporting Metro.
Further, the proposed budget signals that, at best, adequate federal support for Metro will be an uphill battle. Recall that the U.S. government provides no operating funds for Metro, even though significant numbers of its employees use the system. And never mind that U.S. and foreign officials and visitors to the Nation’s Capital rely on Metro; it is a critical part of the region’s security and disaster response; and citizens regularly use it to exercise their First Amendment rights. Without new funding from City taxpayers, expect fewer transportation options in the future and more congestion and cut-through traffic.
The Administration budget would shrink public housing assistance by 13 percent, cut 32 percent from public housing capital programs, and eliminate all funds for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant program and Home Investment Partnerships program.
The effect on Falls Church City’s human services programs would be significant. This federal funding currently helps support English-as-a-Second-Language instruction, emergency assistance for rent and utilities, repairs at Winter Hill affordable housing units and transitional housing provided by HomeStretch.
Long-Term Costs of Proposed Funding Cuts
These are just a few examples of funding cuts that, if enacted, will quickly and negatively affect the City of Falls Church and our citizens. While we do not receive federal funds anywhere near the amounts that other jurisdictions do, these cuts will either hurt us, affect our local budget, or both. They also come at a time when many of our citizens and neighbors who are federal employees are apparent targets of the Administration.
Just as action has costs, so, too, does inaction. If the climate scientists are right, what will the cost be of sea level rise, the inundation of heavily populated coastal areas, and increased natural catastrophes? How about the loss of productivity and employment by people who simply can’t get by without transit or human services?
There are other proposed cuts that affect all communities, far beyond Falls Church. These costs reflect cuts to the US State Department and safety regulatory agencies. What will the cost be of preventable wars because America no longer stands for democracy, diplomatic leadership, peacemaking, and foreign aid? What price will we pay for workers paralyzed or car passengers injured due to cuts in safety programs? We are likely to discover the answers to these questions, if Trump’s budget is adopted.
David Snyder is a member of the Falls Church City Council.