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Trump ‘skinny budget’ could impact counties in big way, local leaders say

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The cuts proposed last month by President Donald Trump in his “skinny budget” could impact counties in a huge way — from cuts to rural airports to Meals on Wheels to Payments In Lieu of Taxes. 

In a proposal issued March 16, Trump unveiled his first budget, “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” which calls for a $54 billion increase in defense spending and funds to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and cuts to State Department and social service spending. The next stop for Trump’s budget blueprint: Congress.

“If the proposed cuts are implemented, every state and local unit of government will be impacted,” said Daryl J. Delabbio, county administrator-controller for Kent County, Mich. “We have already been negatively affected by sequestration, which pales in comparison to the cuts being proposed.”

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Trump administration's budget proposal

Delabbio said while it’s too early to predict exactly what will happen, the proposed elimination of the Community Development Block Grant program “would negatively impact our most vulnerable citizens and could increase homelessness.” He foresees that local governments will be forced to increase their funding levels or eliminate programs altogether. 

As far as what a county could do in his home state to offset such cuts, Delabbio said “it would be difficult to increase revenues because in most instances, the increase would have to be supported by a vote of the people (in Michigan).”

“Budgeting would become more difficult and would result in reductions in workforce and in programs and services,” he said. “In the most drastic terms, counties would have to make significant reductions. Basically, the best way to prepare for possible cuts is to eliminate any reliance on federal funding. There are few, if any, public entities that are totally reliant on local funding.” 

Delabbio’s state could see the end of federal subsidies to airports in Chippewa, Delta, Dickinson, Gogebic and Houghton counties if the 40-year old Essential Air Service program is eliminated as proposed in the Trump budget.

Meanwhile in California’s Santa Clara County, Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the proposed cuts could impact thousands of county residents.

“It’s alarming and irresponsible that President Trump wants to slash aid to women and children,” said Chavez. “We’re talking major cuts to women, infants and children nutrition (WIC) assistance, after-school and summer programs for low-income students, and federal work-study aid to college students. These programs have given thousands of Santa Clara County residents the foundation to build productive lives and careers that have contributed substantially to the economy and success of Silicon Valley.”

Approximately 23 percent of families in the county earn less than $50,000 and children in those families qualify for reduced or free lunch. In 2015, nearly 85,000 children were eligible for subsidized meals. In 2011 22,056 women, infant and children (WIC) were served per month in Santa Clara County. 


Congressman sees 25 percent cut to Texas county budget

Rep.  Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) drew up a list of entities in his district that would suffer cuts under the proposals. It shows that Hidalgo County would see almost 25 percent of its $194.3 million general fund budget cut, although the cuts would not exclusively impact the county, The Monitor newspaper reported. Those cuts could include $10 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding. Other cuts to the county would include:

  • $1.8 million to Hidalgo County Community Services Agency, which provides emergency food assistance and employment programs.
  • $2.1 million for programs to help buy and rehabilitate affordable housing.
  • $4.7 million for programs to help with home energy assistance.

Here’s a look at some other potential challenges counties may face across the country if the president’s proposals become reality:

Meals on Wheels: The program is popular especially with senior citizens on a budget and got a lot of press initially when the budget came out. It gets its funding from a variety of local, state and federal sources including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), Health and Human Services and the Older Americans Act.  The impact is likely to vary from place to place. Every Meals on Wheels affiliate gets money from a mix of funds, along with individual donations and philanthropic organizations.

In Lawrence County, Pa., a program coordinator said any cuts would not impact their Meals on Wheels service because of donations to the program, plus money received from residents, who pay $6 a day, the Ellwood City Ledger reported. 

But in Wake County, N.C., a spokesperson for Meals on Wheels calculated they could run into problems. 

“Based on the proposed budget that the president released just last week, we would estimate that about $200,000 would be cut from our program and that means that we would not have enough money to feed 110 people,” Alan Winstead of Wake Meals on Wheels told WRAL-TV in Raleigh. 


Moving forward 

The loss of CDBG funding could hit counties in many ways. Some officials are moving ahead in the face of uncertainty. In Clark County, Nev., the Board of Commissioners recently voted to move ahead with some $25 million in public projects that could lose funding. 

“Just because the governor, president, whatever asks for something within their budget or not, doesn’t mean they’re going to get that passed,” the Las Vegas Review Journal reported Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani as saying. 

“So, I think we still have to do our due diligence for our constituents and move it forward. If their funding does actually get cut, then we have time to step back and find additional money.”


Losing some Payments in Lieu of Taxes funding

Counties that see Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding could see a drop under the budget proposal; in Idaho, that means a possible loss of $4.4 million the Post Register newspaper reported. 

The federal payments to local governments help offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable federal lands within their boundaries. 

With counties throughout the Gem State receiving a total of $29.4 million last year, a 15 percent reduction implies a loss of $4.4 million in county revenue, the newspaper reported. In Bonneville County, this would mean a loss of about $190,000, in Fremont $163,000, in Lemhi $145,000, in Custer $109,000, and in Butte $50,000.

And those effects would hit some rural counties, including Butte, Lemhi, Clark and Fremont, particularly hard, the newspaper pointed out. 

Local taxpayers in these counties would either face significant reductions in government services such as road repair and snow removal, or face large tax hikes.

In Lemhi County, where the general fund budget is just over $4 million, that would mean about a 4 percent budget cut. The county would be unable to maintain its current level of service unless it took the maximum legal tax hike and dipped into foregone revenue as well, the newspaper noted.

What's next for the Trump budget? 

Some county officials, such as Loudoun County, Va. Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall, say Congress will step in, and that cuts won’t be as dire as proposed.

“I am confident that senators and congress people from both houses and both parties will not let [the budget] stand,” she told her local newspaper, the Loudoun Times-Mirror, “and there will be a lot of adjustments to this budget before it comes to fruition.” 

Partial List of Proposed Federal Program Eliminations

Department of Agriculture

  • Water and Wastewater loan and grant program ($498 million)
  • McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program ($202 million)
  • Rural Business Coop Service (discretionary/$95 million)

Department of Commerce

  • Economic Development Administration ($221 million)
  • Minority Business Development Agency ($32 million)

Department of Energy

  • Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy ($382 million)
  • Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program
  • Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program
  • Weatherization Assistance Program ($121 million)
  • State Energy Program ($28.2 million)

Department of Health and Human Services

  • Health professions and nursing training programs ($403 million)
  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program ($3.4 billion)
  • Community Services Block Grants ($715 million)

Department of Housing and Urban Development

  • Community Development Block Grant program ($3 billion)
  • Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing program ($35 million)

Department of Homeland Security

  • FEMA pre-disaster mitigation grants ($667 million)

Department of the Interior

  • Abandoned Mine Land grants ($160 million
  • National Heritage Areas ($20 million)
  • National Wildlife Refuge fund ($13.2 million)

Department of Justice

  • State Criminal Alien Assistance Program ($210 million)


Department of Labor

  • Senior Community Service Employment Program ($434 million)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration training grants ($11 million)

Department of Transportation

  • The Essential Air Service program ($175 million) provides federal subsidies for commercial air service at rural airports.
  • Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants ($499 million)

Department of the Treasury

  • Community Development Financial Institutions grants ($210 million)

Environmental Protection Agency

  • Geographic watershed programs ($427 million) such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative ($40 million) and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Initiative ($14 million)
  • 50 other EPA programs ($347 million) including Energy Star and Targeted Airshed Grants.
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