Activists demand the Trump administration abandon proposals to cut the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Soft power

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a former Marine Corps general, said recently, “America has two fundamental powers, the power of intimidation and the power of inspiration.”

We couldn’t agree more. We’ve spent our entire careers on the “hard power” side of the ledger. Yet we know that U.S. humanitarian assistance, the keystone of the U.S. “power of inspiration,” is critical to U.S. national security. Americans understand that the U.S. military acts as a deterrent to those who would otherwise do us harm, but they should also understand that the United States’ extraordinary history of alleviating suffering and fighting extreme poverty around the globe is a major asset in securing our nation.

Yet the Trump administration has inexplicably proposed a package of extreme budget and staffing cuts to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development that would lay waste to many humanitarian and development programs. The administration’s budget proposal would cut overall development funding in half, slash international disaster assistance by 43 percent and completely eliminate the leading U.S. food-aid program.

Make no mistake, these deep cuts are not about making programs more effective or rooting out inefficiencies. These actions are not actions of reform. They are a wrecking ball. Congress must soundly reject this proposal.

Michael G. Mullen

Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2007 to 2011

Michèle Flournoy

Chief executive, Center for a
New American Security
and a board member of CARE

Americans’ health

The administration’s budget proposal for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is unsafe, unwise and fiscally irresponsible.

Unsafe. The proposal undermines CDC’s ability to find, stop and prevent threats to Americans’ health. I know what this looks like. When I joined the CDC in 1990, Congress had cut the tuberculosis control budget. TB came roaring back, costing billions and killing Americans. Since then we’ve responded to West Nile, H1N1, Ebola, Zika and more. This proposal cuts virtually every program needed to stop such risks.

Unwise. A proposed block grant hides hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to programs that protect Americans from cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. Block-granting undermines the CDC’s ability to help states implement programs proven to save lives and eliminates the opportunity to support communities and states based on need, impact or effectiveness. The proposal also eliminates research centers critical to discovering new ways to prevent diseases that threaten all Americans.

Fiscally irresponsible. Many CDC programs save $3 or more in health-care costs, and $10 in societal costs, for every dollar spent. Anti-tobacco ads prevent tens of thousands of deaths and reduce health-care costs by hundreds of millions of dollars. Cutting the CDC budget by $1.2 billion could cost Americans more than $15 billion over the next decade.

The CDC should not be a political football. The CDC is a best buy — money that can be counted on to prevent illness, disability and death and save money. As Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the CDC, noted: “What CDC does is probably more important to the average American than, in a sense, the Defense Department.” All who care about Americans’ health should make sure Congress preserves and increases CDC’s budget.

Tom Frieden

Director, Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, 2009 to 2017

Debt forgiveness

In August 2012, I graduated with $80,000 in student loan debt to the U.S. government and a shiny new master’s degree in communication studies and disorders. In spite of my debt, I chose one of the lowest-paying jobs in my field: I work at a public school in a Title I district helping children with a wide range of disabilities. I was able to do this because of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program — a program that President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos intend to end.

The PSLF program was designed to attract well-qualified individuals into public-sector jobs by paying off the remainder of their graduate school loans after 120 consecutive, on-time monthly payments. In other words, if they give 10 years of service, and make every payment during that time, whatever amount remains on their loan is wiped away.

Repeal would devastate the financial plans of hundreds of thousands across the country pursuing advanced degrees to serve the public on the promise that the government would help us get out from under the mountains of debt we accumulated to gain our particular qualifications.

If this program ends, people like me will face a choice between the job they love and their ability to fulfill dreams that seemed within a decade’s reach only a few months ago — buying a car, saving for a down payment on a house someday — dreams that the oligarchs proposing the policy take for granted. For the many people who hope to dedicate their lives to the public good, we cannot allow the PSLF to go belly-up.

Emily Fishman

Speech-language therapist, Somerville, Mass., public schools

Affordable housing

President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request seeks to raid some of the most flexible and effective grant dollars that communities receive from the federal government to meet affordable-housing and economic-development needs.

Governors, mayors and other officials use funds from Department of Housing and Urban Development initiatives, such as the HOME Investment Partnerships and the Community Development Block Grant programs, to build and preserve housing, support first-time home buyers, open community centers and supplement services for the homeless, elderly and disabled. These funds would be eliminated in this proposal, which could result in 580,000 fewer affordable homes created and more than 350,000 jobs lost over the next five years.

The proposed budget attacks communities of all types — urban and rural, red and blue, big and small — that use HUD funds to help residents improve their lives. Furthermore, HOME and CDBG are federalism in action, providing flexible funds to states and local governments to meet their unique needs. Eliminating these programs will leave cities and towns with too-limited funds, leading to local tax increases that stifle economies and limit mobility.

If Congress does not take a stand against Trump’s budget proposal, our communities will suffer grave consequences. By supporting these critical programs, Congress will equip cities and towns across the country with the tools they need to succeed.

Henry Cisneros

HUD secretary, 1993 to 1997

Terri Ludwig

Chief executive, Enterprise Community Partners

Access to justice

The Trump administration intends to completely eliminate the budget for the Legal Services Corporation, abandoning the millions of Americans who receive assistance from this agency.

One dispiriting aspect of America’s recent presidential campaigns is the almost complete silence surrounding access to justice. The lack of national policy discussion is not for lack of a problem. According to the World Justice Project, the United States ranks 67th (tied with Uganda) of 97 countries in the accessibility and affordability of civil justice. Other developed democracies devote three to 10 times more funding to civil legal aid than the United States.

As a consequence, a majority of those who seek help from federally funded civil legal aid programs are turned away due to lack of resources. The budget for the LSC has declined almost 40 percent over the past three decades. Only 5,000 attorneys serve a nation with more than 60 million low-income individuals eligible for assistance. Funding for direct legal services for low-income individuals comes to just $5.85 per eligible person per year and would drop dramatically if federal funding dried up.

Those grants are highly cost-effective. Much of this aid helps individuals meet their most basic human needs and prevents exploitation of the most vulnerable groups: veterans, the elderly, disaster victims and impoverished children.

Deborah Rhode

Professor, Stanford University Law School


I became the first in my family to graduate college — and I did it with four kids. If the Trump administration’s $10.6 billion in cuts to federal education initiatives were to have been enacted when I was a student, I would have never made it through.

For many low-income, first-generation students, the road to and through college is a difficult journey. According to a Pell Institute report, only 10.9 percent of low-income, first-generation students attained a bachelor’s degree in six years. Imagine how challenging it is for low-income, first-generation student-parents to graduate. Without federal access programs such as Child Care Access Means Parents in School, or CCAMPIS, which is one of the 22 programs federal education initiatives up for elimination in the Trump budget, student-parents, children, communities and indeed the whole nation will suffer. Why? Because cutting CCAMPIS has a trickle-down effect with real impact; it ripples across generations, and eliminating it would cut into our nation’s future economic prosperity.

Those who benefit from CCAMPIS are trying to make their lives and their children’s lives better by going to college. If the Trump administration stands against someone who is striving for that, what does the American dream really mean?

Alex Serna

Program director, Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano