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Trump’s budget hits poor Americans the hardest

The White House's spending priorities for 2018 renege on President Trump's promises to lower the deficit and keep Medicare and Medicaid spending without cuts. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump proposed a budget Monday that hits the poorest Americans the hardest, slashing billions of dollars in food stamps, health insurance and federal housing subsidies while pushing legislation to institute broad work requirements for families receiving housing vouchers, expanding on moves by some states to require recipients of Medicaid and food stamps to work.

The Trump budget proposal would gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, by $17.2 billion in 2019 — equivalent to 22 percent of the program’s total cost last year. It calls for cuts of more than $213.5 billion over the next decade, a reduction of nearly 30 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In addition, Trump is proposing a full-scale redesign of SNAP, which provides an average of $125 per month to 42.2 million Americans. For the last 40 years, the program has allowed beneficiaries to use SNAP benefits at grocery stores as if they were cash. Under the budget proposal, the Department of Agriculture would use a portion of those benefits to buy and deliver a package of U.S.-grown commodities to SNAP households that receive $90 or more in assistance each month, using the government’s buying power to obtain common foods at lower costs.

“This budget proposes taking away food assistance from millions of low-income Americans — and on the heels of a tax cut that favored the wealthy and corporations,” said Stacy Dean, president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It doesn’t reflect the right values.”

The proposal repeats several cost-cutting measures from last year, including new restrictions on eligibility and stricter requirements around the use of work-requirement waivers, which allow states with high unemployment rates to extend benefits to adults who are out of work for longer than three months.

Congress has final say over spending — but Monday's budget proposal is seen as an important sign of Trump's priorities.

The budget proposal would also alter programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development “to encourage work and self-sufficiency,” the document said.

Trump's proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year includes a 14 percent cut to HUD, amounting to $6.8 billion below the agency’s current $48 billion spending, an even deeper cut than his previous year's proposal, which had been the most dramatic cut to HUD since President Ronald Reagan slashed the agency’s funding in the early 1980s.

The administration has proposed eliminating the entire fund for public housing capital repairs, a savings of nearly $2 billion a year. The targeted cut comes at a time when public housing faces a backlog of capital needs upward of $40 billion, said Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In New York City, about 80 percent of public housing tenants suffered heating and hot water outages in recent months because the aging boiler systems are in desperate need of repair, Yentel said. 

“The administration wants state and local governments to take care of that, which is just a total abdication of its responsibility,” she said.

Trump also proposed cutting a federal housing subsidy program, known as Section 8 vouchers, by nearly $1 billion, which Yentel said would result in more than 250,000 low-income families losing their housing assistance. The cuts would come on top of the administration's proposal to raise the rent for low-income families receiving public housing help.

The proposed HUD budget, like last year, would eliminate funding for community development block grants, which play a key role in disaster recovery, as well as grants to states and local governments to increase homeownership for the lowest-income Americans, and funding for neighborhood redevelopment. The Trump administration said it has proposed shutting down programs that are “duplicative or have failed to demonstrate effectiveness” and that state and local governments are better equipped to shoulder the responsibility for community and economic development.

On health care for low-income Americans, Trump’s budget calls for cutting federal Medicaid funding by $250 billion over the next 10 years, as the administration envisions passing a law “modeled closely” on a Senate Republican proposal that failed last fall to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The White House plan, similar to that spearheaded by Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), would dramatically cut federal health spending and send some of the savings to the states. Republicans say doing so would give governors the flexibility to bring down costs, but experts say the overall reduction in government spending would cost millions of Americans their health insurance.

The White House plan also calls for new per-person limits on the amount of health care each Medicaid enrollee can use, as well as tying federal spending on the program to the cost of inflation.

The budget envisions a sweeping change to Medicaid, turning a portion of the federal funding of the vast safety-net insurance program into a block grant. That grant, starting with $146 billion in 2020 and reaching $1.6 trillion over the coming decade, would free states from basic federal Medicaid rules that spell out which medical benefits the program must cover and which residents must be allowed to qualify.

All of the deep cuts to the social safety net that Trump proposed last year were rejected by Congress on a bipartisan basis, and the budget bill passed by Congress last week increased spending amounts in discretionary programs. But Yentel said she fears the drastic cuts in Trump's budget proposal lower the bar for what's considered acceptable.

“The president’s budget request is always considered dead on arrival in Congress, especially in an election year,” Yentel said. “My concern is that it leaves open a space for a compromise to be less severe but still a significant cut to programs.”

Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.