Many Americans in rural communities that felt ignored by previous administrations got behind Donald Trump as a candidate for his promises to revitalize what they felt were forgotten communities.
In his inauguration speech, Trump said: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. … And I will fight for you with every breath in my body — and I will never, ever let you down.”
Trump won 62 percent of the rural vote and 66 percent of the vote from Americans who are white and without college degrees, an often inexact measurement of the working-class vote, according to exit polls.
But in the president’s proposed budget for 2019, some programs that often help these same Americans are put at risk. The Trump administration has proposed cutting food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by $17 billion in 2019 and more than $213 billion over the next decade. The administration wants to make up the difference with a box of canned goods — a change that Office of Management and budget director Mick Mulvaney described in a Monday briefing as a “Blue Apron-type program,” The Washington Post's Caitlin Dewey reported. The budget also proposes slashing billions from health insurance and housing subsidies.
But experts say slashing food stamp funding could have a devastating impact on low-income families, including those who backed the president. While many have historically thought of cities as the centers of American poverty, according to the U.S. Census, nearly 17 percent of the rural population is poor, compared with 13 percent of the urban population.
Stacey Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told The Fix that this change could be felt most by rural Americans.
“Rural America is one of the areas that don’t have many food banks. So I worry, for example, that if the way the proposal would work would be that they cut people’s benefits in half and say, ‘We’ll buy the food for you, and they’ll be this box of food.’ It’ll do nothing to fill the void,” Dean said.
Kathy Fisher, policy director at Philadelphia’s Coalition Against Hunger, told Dewey: “It boggles the mind how that would play out. We know SNAP works now, when people can choose what they need. How they would distribute foods to people with specialized diets, or [to people in] rural areas. … It’s very expensive and very complicated.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) compared Trump's proposal to that of the Soviet Union.
It’s not just programs benefiting low-income Americans that could be cut. Trump's 2019 budget includes more than $3 trillion in cuts, some of which target programs for Americans in many of the areas that Trump said he would help. (He did keep his campaign promises to increase defense spending and funding for Veterans Affairs. Trump is asking for $716 billion in defense spending in 2019, a 13 percent increase over 2017.)
Trump’s budget proposes eliminating the Rural Business and Cooperative Service, which provides loans and grants in rural communities and also cuts crop insurance subsidies for farmers. The budget also includes cuts to the Economic Development Administration, which provides federal grants to communities, including those in rural areas, in support of locally developed economic plans.
While Trump may have won the white working-class vote, nearly half of Americans coming from households that make more than $100,000 also voted for him, according to exit polls. His critics often seek to remind Americans that when forced to choose, the president will pick the financial interests of high-level donors. Such was the case with the tax cuts, which, arguably, slashing benefits to the poor will help offset.
Even if the economic agenda of Trump's administration does not match the economic promises of the Trump campaign, many of the working-class voters who supported him will continue to do so in the future because it was not economic anxiety alone that led them to back this presidency. But cutting programs that benefit low-income Americans could make it difficult for the GOP to win working-class voters at the same rate that Trump did in 2016.