President Trump introduced a 2018 budget proposal Thursday that includes significant cuts to programs meant to bolster lower-income Americans. Below, we imagine a worst-case scenario for one such family, living in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The first thing you notice when you wake up is that it’s cold.
It’s unseasonably cold for March, sure, but it’s also colder in the house than it should be. The winter was long and heating oil is expensive — and although the government used to provide assistance with the heating bills, that support ended when the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program was cut. The house could use better insulation, too, to hold in the heat, but an upgrade like that is expensive, and the government program to assist with weatherization was cut, too. You’d happily move, but affordable housing is in short supply and cuts to a federal affordable-housing program means that you’re not moving up the Habitat for Humanity wait list anytime soon.
Breakfast. Luckily, cuts to WIC’s nutrition assistance program haven’t affected your family. But you still need to be judicious about what food is in the house, now that the Meals on Wheels program that helped your father has been cut, as a result of the elimination of federal Community Development Block Grants. Something small, then. You still get the same supplemental nutrition assistance as before, but it never went very far. Your younger son’s asthma is acting up. The county’s efforts to cut down on the air pollution that exacerbates it were slowed when the Environmental Protection Agency’s grant program was axed.
For now, the kids are off to school — one of the new charter schools near town. Three years ago, your older son’s class visited Friendship Hill National Historic Site about this time of year, but it, along with 48 other historic sites, closed after funding was stopped. No field trip for your younger son, then. And no reading assistance from members of City Year, either. The elimination of AmeriCorps meant the end of such service-oriented programs. Once upon a time, your father may have been able to step in, thanks to the Senior Community Service Employment Program, but that has been cut, too.
You head to work. You’d been hoping to start your own business for some time, but a business incubator that had been planned in your area was canceled after the Appalachian Regional Commission was shut down. Besides, you’ve been having a hard time getting a loan from a bank, something that would probably have been easier if Community Development Financial Institutions hadn’t been eliminated. So back to the same old service-sector job and the same old hourly wage.
Your father stays home; the senior center lost its block grant, too. He calls you around lunch time to let you know that you just received a foreclosure notice from your landlord. You know they can’t do that under the terms of your lease, but a lawyer is expensive and the pro bono firm you’ve used in the past can’t help you anymore, after it lost funding from the Legal Services Corporation.
Before your workday is done, the kids are back home. There used to be a latchkey program that your younger son went to, but: budget cuts. Same with the local library, where your older son used to attend a reading group twice a week. Cuts to the Institute of Museum and Library Services meant losing the staff member who ran the program, and that ended that. Instead, you know the boys are on the couch flipping through channels. No “Sesame Street,” of course, as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting lost its funding, crippling the organization. They’ll have to make do.
Your shift over, you start the long trip home. A planned bus route that would have sliced your commute in half was shelved after a TIGER grant from the federal government was canceled, meaning that the county couldn’t afford more buses. While you’re waiting for your transfer, the weather takes a sharp turn for the worse. No snow was expected, but forecasts have been shaky recently. You know what this means, though: melting snow backing up the storm drains near your house, because you could never afford to have them fixed, and the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program was canceled before you could apply.
You finally make it home after a long day. Dinner. Your older son is starting to think about colleges, but the end of Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants means that you need to be honest with him about what you can and can’t afford. That’s a problem for another day. Like tomorrow. Tomorrow it all starts over again, and you know that it will start the same way.