On Budgets, and the Importance of Speaking Your Mind.

Another day, another totally crazy plan proposed by the Trump administration. Lately, I’ve been saying to friends that I wake up every morning thinking, ‘Okay, this is it, they’ve finally hit rock bottom.’ Every day so far, I’ve been proven wrong. From unconstitutional travel bans (shut down not once, but twice!) to intelligence snafus and ethics violations, the Trump administration has been a comedy of errors pretty much since Day One. So, it should come as no surprise that when President Trump released his proposed budget today, it prompted wide-eyed disbelief from both sides of the aisle. (It should be noted that some of the disbelief from the right is a little hard to swallow for those with more liberal leanings. For example, Sen. John McCain claims that the budget won’t pass because it doesn’t put enough towards defense spending. Yup.)

Of course, President Trump’s proposed budget isn’t set in stone. As the moniker implies, this budget is merely a proposition put forth before Congress. The House and Senate then have the power to pass it, edit it and then pass it, or completely ignore it, as they did with President Obama’s budget last year. Of course, it’s much less likely that President Trump’s budget will be totally ignored, since Congress is currently controlled by his party, and — for the most part — congressional Republicans have been unwilling to break ranks and stand up to their party’s representative in the Executive branch.

All of this is well and good, but what does it mean? For everyday Americans, it can be difficult to parse out how billions of dollars worth of discretionary spending can impact our everyday lives. Thankfully, The Washington Post came out with a clear and informative graphic that breaks down the real-life consequences of Trump’s proposed draconian budget cuts. Let’s walk through the highlights together:

 

Agriculture Department Screenshot -- Washington Post

President Trump’s team proposes cutting the Department of Agriculture’s budget by over 20 percent. On the ground, those cuts would completely eliminate a program that provides agricultural commodities and educational initiatives to women and children in low-income, food-poor countries all over the world. The Water and Wastewater Program, which funds sanitation and drinking water programs all over rural America, would also cease to exist. Additionally, the reductions would require major staff layoffs at the USDA, cut funding from the WIC nutrition program, and strip $95 million from the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, which provides job training and business development programs to rural communities.

If this sounds to you like it would strip funding from programs that overwhelming support constituents who voted for President Trump, you would be absolutely correct.

 

Commerce Department Screenshot -- The Washington Post

Proposed cuts to the Commerce Department would predominantly impact climate change initiatives and domestic economic programs. For someone who claims to care about jobs, it seems pretty insane to eliminate the Sea Grant program, which creates and sustains 21,000 jobs and 2,900 businesses annually, while simultaneously protecting at-risk coastal communities. Unfortunately, nobody asked me before slipping this fun little provision in.

 

Department of Education Screenshot -- Washington Post

Here’s a doozy: the Trump administration has proposed decreasing the Department of Education’s budget by over $9 billion. Most of those cuts will hit two areas: work-study programs for college students, and public school programs that support teachers and low-income students.

Let’s talk about work-study first. I — like the majority of other people in my age bracket that I know — could not have afforded college without a federal work-study grant. Federal work-study allowed me to shave over $3,000 a year off my tuition by being working within the university community (often, as I did, for the low, low federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour). For low-income students, that ‘small’ $3,000 grant is literally the difference between attending college and not attending.

As for the $3.7 billion cut; where to begin? How can we expect teachers to do their best work when we consistently underpay them, overwork them, and now eliminate their funding for increased training? How can we support low-income students without providing them a safe, educational space after school and during summer vacation? How can we reach the untapped potential of first-generation and low-income children if we reduce their aid?

Short answer: we can’t.

‘But S,’ you say, ‘all is not lost! The proposed budget increases funding for charter schools and school choice programs.’

Yeah, let’s talk about that. I’ll address charter schools first. Here’s the thing about charter schools — while they can supplement public schools, they can’t supplant them. How do I know? Well, aside from the numerous on-the-ground examples in Detroit and New Orleans, among other places, one of my best friends also teaches at a charter school. This is a women who has wanted to be a teacher as long as I’ve known her — and I’ve known her almost my entire life. She went to school to teach. I have never met someone as passionate about reaching at-risk students as she is. And yet, after a few years of working in charter schools, she’s thinking of calling it quits. Why?

Teaching at a charter school, she barely makes a living wage. From that paltry amount, she puts in almost $4,000 of her own money each year to outfit her classroom with supplies and decor. Since charter schools have no federal or state oversight, her institution happily requires teachers to do 1-month of professional development each summer: unpaid. She has limited support for special needs children in her class, many of whom require intensive intervention that the school cannot or will not provide. Since they are not technically a public school, they’re also not required to.

This is what charter schools look like. This is what lack of oversight looks like. Our teachers, our students, and our families deserve so much better.

As for school choice and the voucher system? For those of you who don’t already know, the voucher program originated as a response to desegregation. In many Southern states, including Virginia and North Carolina, governors chose to close schools rather than integrate them. When the government then provided families with private school vouchers, there was only one problem: the vast majority of private schools wouldn’t accept black students.

Those racists roots persist today. Sure, voucher programs are great, if your family has enough disposable income to supplement the difference between what a voucher provides and what private school tuition actually costs (even elementary schools can run over $20,000 annually, with high schools sometimes closer to $40,000). Since minority families are twice as likely to be low-income as white families (47 vs. 23 percent), it’s no surprise that voucher programs disproportionately help white folks and royally screw over Black and Latinx people. Thanks for nothing, Betsy DeVos.

 

Department of Energy Screenshot -- Washington Post

Cool, because what we need is more nuclear waste, less science, and a complete lack of energy efficient appliances. Sounds like a great America to me. You know, until the radiation poisoning and climate collapse set in.

 

Department of Health and Human Services Screenshot -- Washington Post

Yeah, so, this would decrease our ability to create research partnerships with foreign health institutions. If would also decrease the NIH budget by almost $6 billion. Because, like I said, who needs science anyway? Oh, wait…all of us. We all need science.

HUD screenshot -- Washington Post

Right, because you’re really going to help the rural poor and those inner-city folks you spend so much time talking about if you take away most funding used in Housing Assistance. Sounds like a plan.

Interior Department Screenshot -- Washington Post

DO NOT MESS WITH OUR NATIONAL PARKS. DON’T DO IT. SERIOUSLY. DON’T MESS WITH THE (ALT)NPS.

Department of Labor Screenshot -- Washington Post

I’m just so confused. Someone please explain to me how cutting job training and job placement programs creates more jobs? Also, who cares about health and safety in the workplace anyway? APPARENTLY NOT DONALD TRUMP.

State Department Screenshot -- Washington Post

Yeah, did you think think the Department of Education was a doozy? Well yes, yes it was, but so is this. The proposed budget offers a 30 percent cut of the State Department budget. Those $10.9 billion support cultural-exchange programs, development banks, peacekeeping, and climate-change initiatives. But hey, if we start World War III, at least we’ll have put a lot into defense spending, right?

Department of Transportation

You know what I don’t want privatized? Air-traffic control. Honestly, when I think of things I want outside of government oversight MY SAFETY WHILE ON A METAL TUBE HURTLING THROUGH THE SKY AT HIGH SPEEDS IS NOT ONE OF THEM. Also, IT’S SO FUNNY BECAUSE YOU SPENT SO MUCH TIME TALKING ABOUT SUPPORTING INFRASTRUCTURE AND NOW YOU WANT TO CUT FUNDING FOR INFRASTRUCTURE I DON’T GET IT WHO ARE YOU WHY?????????

EPA Screenshot -- Washington Post

Let me say it again, and again, and again: we ALL need science. We also only get one world. If we continue to destroy it without doing research that will enable us to save our planet for future generations, we are damning our children. No matter what the Supreme Court has said, corporations are not people. And while corporations will flourish under the crippling of the EPA, people will suffer. Republicans, I ask you — is the tradeoff worth it?

Arts and Culture Screenshot -- Washington Post

So I’ve talked before about how damaging it would be to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, but it bears repeating. Art matters. Children who grow into empathetic, engaging adults are exposed to the arts. They’re exposed early. Museums and libraries and concerts and plays and radio shows and television programs allow people to learn about a world outside of themselves. They allow people to revel in our shared humanity. They help remind us why we’re here.

These infographics missed a few other things: like the fact that the proposed budget also eliminates Americorps and Meals on Wheels. Those may be some big names, but there are lots of little tidbits of cruelty in this proposal that the news articles just didn’t have time to cover.

So loooking at these cuts, I am once again overwhelmed by our nation’s great divide. I look at the programs this proposal eliminates, and all I see is suffering. If you disagree with me, I’m listening. If you don’t see suffering, what do you see?

— S

Day 73: March 16, 2017

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