Unlike many politicians of both major parties, President Trump has not forgotten about poor people.
If you are impoverished or black or brown, you might be better off without Trump’s attention.
Tuesday, the day before the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, the president issued an executive order that makes it more difficult for poor people to get public assistance. And while Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson praised the law, his moves signify efforts to weaken it.
One example is as basic as the department’s mission.
In the name of making its mission statement “more clear and concise,” HUD officials hatched a plan to remove the words “inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination,” the HuffPost reported.
But not to worry. “The notion that any new mission statement would reflect a lack of commitment to fair housing is nonsense,” Carson said in an email to staffers. At a ceremony in HUD’s headquarters honoring the law, he added this promise: “I want to make a solemn vow. HUD has been, is now, and will always be that instrument of fairness. Some will say that we must do more — it is right and natural that we continue to be challenged for the sake of fairness.”
Words matter, and these are good ones. But so are “inclusive” and “free from discrimination.” Expunging that from the mission statement would signal a weakening of the government’s commitment to this fundamental principle.
As much as words matter, actions count more.
New York Times reporting, based on internal HUD emails and interviews with 20 current and former officials, found numerous ways the Trump administration is attempting “to roll back the Obama administration’s attempts to reverse decades of racial, ethnic and income segregation in federally subsidized housing and development projects.” That includes placing a hold on fair housing investigations and seeking to reverse, until stopped by the courts, an Obama effort to facilitate the use of low-income housing vouchers in wealthier areas.
Regarding delayed fair-housing probes, a HUD spokesman told the Federal Insider that agency “investigations on complaints are not materially different from that of prior administrations at this point.”
That’s not the way Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, sees it.
“Unfortunately, the fight to make progress on fair housing has become more challenging under the Trump administration,” she said. “Let’s not forget that President Trump himself was sued by the government for serious violations of the Fair Housing Act. Under President Trump’s leadership, the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing [AFFH] mandate under the Fair Housing Act was badly undercut when HUD Secretary Ben Carson temporarily halted implementation of the Obama Administration’s AFFH rule. In fact, Secretary Carson once likened the rule to a ‘failed social experiment.’”
Actually, the term he used in a Washington Times op-ed, “failed socialist experiments,” expressed even more disdain for the housing rule and other “government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality.” He believes they “create consequences that often make matters worse.” Carson objected to the Obama administration’s plan to “affirmatively promote” fair housing.
Yet, as my colleague Tracy Jan reported, research shows that “giving families in high-poverty housing projects incentives to move to wealthier neighborhoods could stem the intergenerational poverty cycle and ultimately benefit taxpayers.”
Trump’s executive order strengthens work requirements for programs designed to lift people out of poverty. Because this has been a theme in federal public assistance for decades, the order may be more important in its implication than in its substance.
The haughty implication is that those on public assistance don’t want to work. If fact, many do.
“The vast majority of families who rely on housing benefits already work at low wages or are unable to work — whether because they are elderly, have a disability, are in school or care full-time for another member of the family,” said Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
If Trump wants to get more poor people working, his budget proposal should reflect that.
“To the contrary,” writes Tazra Mitchell, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “It freezes funding for core job training for 2019; calls for deep cuts in future years in the part of the budget that funds job training, child care, and Pell Grants; includes proposals that would make college more expensive; and targets working families for cuts in assistance that help them afford the basics, and in some cases, even reduces work incentives in existing program eligibility rules.”