President Recommends Devastating Cuts to Federal Programs; APA Opposes Proposal

The President released a preliminary budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year 2018 this morning, outlining a devastating vision of a dramatically reduced federal role in the nation’s communities.

The proposal cuts $54 billion in funding from non-defense programs, diverting that funding to defense. As a result of this massive disinvestment in domestic priorities, many programs that are critical to the development and maintenance of strong communities, a clean environment, and safe, reliable transportation networks were eliminated.

The President proposed the total elimination of the Community Development Block Grant program, the HOME Investment Partnerships program, and the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative at HUD. In addition, the budget ends support for New Starts transit funding and cuts funding for the TIGER grant program at DOT. It also eliminates the Economic Development Administration at the Commerce Department.

The proposal is an initial step in a long budget and appropriations process. Though this document sets the tone for budget negotiations, the President’s budget is purely a political document with no force of law. Congress controls the nation’s purse strings and can decide to accept the budget entirely, use portions of it and reject others, or ignore it altogether. Several of former President Obama’s budget proposals were largely ignored.

APA is strongly opposed to this budget proposal and is working in Washington to preserve these programs, but your help is needed. APA is calling on all members to send a statement to their members of Congress opposing this harmful budget and join a national letter supporting funding for transportation, housing, and community development programs.

Constituency is a powerful tool, and members of Congress are listening. Stand up for federal support for good planning.

Note: The President’s budget proposal is compared to FY 2016 funding levels, the last year in which a budget was finalized. The current fiscal year, 2017, is being operated under a series of continuing resolutions (CR) at FY 2016 levels. The current CR expires on April 28.

HUD

The budget outline for the Department of Housing and Urban Development closely resembles the budget document obtained last week by the Washington Post. While there appears to be a small increase to rental assistance programs compared to the budget document, most proposed cuts were maintained.

In total, the President requested $40.7 billion for HUD, a decrease of $6.2 billion or 13 percent from FY 2016 levels. The bulk of these cuts come from community development programs.

The President recommends the elimination of the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG), claiming that “the Federal Government [sic] has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results. The Budget devolves community and economic development activities to the State and local level ...”

Similarly, the HOME Investment Partnership program and Choice Neighborhoods is also recommended for elimination, claiming “state and local governments are better positioned to serve their communities based on local needs and priorities.”

The budget document obtained by the Washington Post outlined severe cuts to the Public Housing Capital Fund and the Public Housing Operating Fund, and though it appears those cuts may have been less severe than reported, the official budget released today does not specify funding for specific rental assistance programs, and the bulk of the funding in theory could be funneled primarily to voucher programs.

DOT

Despite campaign pledges to focus on building our nation’s infrastructure, the President recommends a $2.4 billion cut — a 13 percent decrease — to the Department of Transportation compared with FY 2016 funding levels.

The President recommends the elimination of the TIGER grant program, which the President describes as “award[ing] grants to projects that are generally eligible for funding under existing surface transportation formula programs.”

The President limits funding for the Capital Investment Program (New Starts) to projects with existing grant agreements and eliminates funding for future projects, stating that “new projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”

Amtrak is slated for big changes in the proposal; the President “restructures and reduces” subsidies to Amtrak to “focus resources on the parts of the passenger rail system that provide meaningful transportation options within regions.” The budget eliminates long distance funding and diverts resources to the Northeast corridor.

Interior

President Trump’s budget requests $11.6 billion for the Department of Interior in FY18, a 12 percent decrease. These cuts mainly target important land management programs that support community conservation, recreation, and historic preservation.

The proposed budget makes substantial cuts to programs that allow the federal government to purchase lands for parks and recreational purposes. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is the primary source of funding for national, state, and local land acquisition for parks, and while LWCF is not referenced directly, the budget proposes a general cut of $120 million for land acquisition. It suggests focusing instead on investing in and maintaining existing parks and public lands. While the backlog in maintenance for existing national parks and public lands is substantial and must be addressed, it should not come at the expense of new projects that promote conservation and recreation, especially in urban areas that tend to lack adequate access to nearby parks and recreational facilities.

In addition to cuts to federal land acquisition, the President’s budget eliminates funding for National Heritage Areas (NHA), a program that preserves landscapes where people once lived and recognizes the national importance of a region’s sites and history. Through the NHA program, the National Park Service has provided guidance and technical assistance to local communities working to create their own NHA. This program has been highly successful at leveraging local matching funds for NHA projects. Cuts to the NHA program and other historic preservation programs would challenge local efforts to preserve and share their heritage.

Finally, the President’s FY18 Interior budget proposes reduced funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. PILT provides critical payments to local governments to offset lower tax revenues that result from tax-exempt federal lands within their boundaries. This program is essential to support local government services and operations in communities that include substantial swaths of federal lands.

Commerce

While the budget proposes an increase to the Census Bureau to support work on the 2020 decennial census, several Commerce Department programs were eliminated.

Eliminations include the Economic Development Administration, which the President claims “provides small grants with limited measurable impacts and duplicates other federal programs.”

The budget also calls for the elimination of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grants, which the President claims “primarily benefit industry and State and local stakeholders.” This includes coastal mapping and resilience programs within NOAA.

EPA

Reports of massive cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency were largely accurate; the President recommends a $2.6 billion or 31 percent cut to the agency, claiming that “unnecessary federal regulations that impose significant costs for workers and consumers without justifiable environmental benefits.” The proposal would eliminate 3,200 positions at EPA.

A rare bright spot in the budget, the President recommends an increase in funding for water infrastructure. However, the proposal eliminates the Clean Water Plan, International Climate Assistance, and “more than 50 EPA programs” that aren't detailed in the budget document.

Other

The President’s budget also makes a number of recommendations to programs within a large range of departments and agencies critical to planners:

  • Slated for elimination within the Treasury Department is the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund.
  • Within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program and the Community Services Block Grant program are also eliminated.
  • Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grants at the Homeland Security Department are zeroed out.
  • Both the Weatherization and the State Energy Program grants are eliminated from the Department of Energy.

Top image: 2018 administration budget books.


About the Author
Tess Hembree is policy manager at Advocacy Associates.

March 16, 2017

By Tess Hembree