Mixed reactions to budget from interest groups

The conservative Heritage Foundation released a statement Thursday that said “This morning, President Donald Trump’s administration unveiled the outlines of an ‘America First’ budget. The administration’s budget request calls for roughly a 10 percent overall reduction in non-defense discretionary spending for the upcoming FY 2018 budget year, which would pay for a $54 billion increase in defense spending.

Heritage Action for America Chief Executive Officer Michael Needham said “Budgets are all about vision and prioritization, and there is a lot for conservatives to like in President Trump’s budget request. It envisions a smaller, more efficient federal government that will begin focusing on core functions while ensuring Americans remain safe and secure. Unfortunately, key Republican lawmakers preemptively dismissed the president’s budget request last month. President Trump must not allow parochial concerns and Washington norms to stymie his effort to drain the swamp and put America first and make America great again.”

Michael Peterson, president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, said “America faces significant fiscal challenges caused by a structural, long-term imbalance between revenues and spending. Economic growth requires a stable fiscal foundation, and the annual budget process is an important opportunity to put our nation on a more sustainable path.”

“Today’s budget provides initial information, covering just one year and focusing on discretionary spending, which represents only approximately 30 percent of spending,” Peterson said. “While every part of the budget is important, discretionary spending is not a key driver of our growing debt — it is already projected to decline below historical levels.

“Despite promises to protect the safety net, President Trump’s proposed ‘skinny budget’ is more of a starvation budget that slashes programs that support vulnerable and low-income people. … The budget also proposes deep reductions in job training and work-study programs as well as afterschool and summer programs, which are especially vital to the health and learning of low-income children. This is just a sampling of critical programs that have been put on the chopping block.Jim Weill, president of the Food research & Action Center

“As lawmakers work through the budget process and pursue other major reforms, they have a responsibility to address our nation’s high and rising debt. On our current path, annual deficits will exceed $1 trillion in just six years, and the national debt will grow by $10 trillion over the next 10 years. We need to change course and chart a path for a sustainable fiscal future, in order to build a solid foundation for economic growth and prosperity.”

Nutrition, antipoverty groups say Trump budget will increase hunger

Although President Donald Trump’s budget did not propose a cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), key nutrition and antipoverty leaders said other program cuts would hurt poor people.

“Despite promises to protect the safety net, President Trump’s proposed ‘skinny budget’ is more of a starvation budget that slashes programs that support vulnerable and low-income people,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research & Action Center.

Weill continued, “The budget shreds anti-poverty programs in the discretionary part of the federal budget. It eliminates funding for LIHEAP [the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program], the Community Services Block Grant, the Community Development Block Grant, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and legal services for the poor, among others.

“The budget also proposes deep reductions in job training and work-study programs as well as afterschool and summer programs, which are especially vital to the health and learning of low-income children. This is just a sampling of critical programs that have been put on the chopping block.

“FRAC will continue to work with Congress to stop these cuts that would deepen hunger and poverty and harm communities across the nation,” Weill concluded.

Bob Greenstein, president of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which frequently analyzes nutrition programs, noted that the budget would eliminate LIHEAP, “which helps low-income households, including many poor seniors, pay for heat, especially in cold winter months.”

“This isn’t a budget that will make America great again,” Greeinstein said. “Instead, it’s a budget that will increase hardship and poverty, exacerbate the gulf between the wealthy and other Americans, slash funding for areas that represent investments in our workforce — with likely long-term adverse effects on the economy — and renege on various international responsibilities and commitments.”

Duke Storen, senior director of Share Our Strength, said, “the White House released a dangerous budget proposal that would hurt children where they live, learn, and play. Instead of ‘putting the needs of its own people first’ as the proposal states, these cuts would cause serious hardship to millions of American families living in poverty. Together, these cuts are catastrophic and fly in the face of family values, taking more away from the average American family than any budget in recent history. From resources as basic as heat and nutrition, to job training and service opportunities for our youth, it’s a budget that says ‘you are on your own.”

Although the White House budget document said that the proposal includes enough money for all projected participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as WIC, Share Our Strength said the budget would “reduce funding for WIC, the program that provides critical nutrition to pregnant mothers and their newborns and young children.”

Storen also noted that the budget “comes just days after the introduction of legislation that would repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would roll back Medicaid expansion and take medical benefits away from Americans who need them most, leaving millions of children, families, seniors, and people with disabilities in jeopardy.”

“Instead of putting America first, this budget puts American people last,” Storen said. “This budget would make us poorer, hungrier, sicker, colder, and less secure. It would make it harder for kids to get an education and adults to get good jobs.

“We will never have a strong America if we do not have strong Americans, so today we have a choice,” Storen said. “We can stand by and allow the destruction of programs that give a more level playing field to children, making sure they get the basic food, care and skills they desperately need. Or we can stand up and fight for our values, demanding that decisions are made based on evidence, not ideology. Congress must reject this budget proposal. America’s children are counting on you.”

Wheat growers worried about range of programs

National Association of Wheat Growers President David Schemm, a wheat farmer from Sharon Springs, Kan., on Thursday praised the Trump administration for not cutting crop insurance or farm subsidies that are in Title I of the 2014 farm bill, but said “we are very concerned about the impact that the deep discretionary cuts, particularly at USDA, will have on wheat farmers across the country.“

“NAWG is concerned about what these cuts could mean for wheat research, the functionality of farm programs resulting from cuts to NASS and USDA county offices, rural infrastructure programs, and anti-hunger programs like the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program,” Schemm said.

“The blueprint also contains a 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While NAWG believes the EPA needs to be reined in, NAWG wants to ensure that the agency is funded at a level that allows for timely work on registration review of crop protection tools and evaluation of new products. Growers rely on EPA to evaluate the safety of crop protection tools and they need to do so in an efficient and effective manner.”

NACD, NSAC, UCS disappointed in budget conservation cuts

The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) is “extremely disappointed” that President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget request includes a 21 percent cut to the Agriculture Department and is particularly concerned that incentive-based conservation programs may be cut, the group said in a news release.

“Without USDA conservation programs, America’s farmers, ranchers, and communities won’t have the resources or assistance they need to keep our soils healthy, our water clean, and our wildlife abundant,” said NACD President Brent Van Dyke. “We look forward to the president releasing a more thorough budget in the coming weeks and will continue to work with Congress to ensure strong funding.”

The group also said that the budget’s calls for reducing staffing in USDA’s Service Center Agencies “would prevent thousands of rural communities across America from accessing services like conservation planning assistance.”

“If enacted, the president’s budget would be devastating to farmers, ranchers, and rural communities across America,” NACD CEO Jeremy Peters said. “At a time when private capital in the farm economy is scarce, landowners need even greater access to conservation planning assistance.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said Trump’s budget “proposes to privatize conservation planning and conservation technical assistance, which is currently administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).”

“While NRCS has a long history of partnering with non-governmental entities to help deliver conservation services, private sector engagement in the area of conservation planning is very limited and could not possibly fill the gap left by NRCS if funding were cut significantly. Among other things, this proposal would greatly reduce farmers’ ability to access the farm bill conservation programs, since the staffing needed to deliver the programs would be decimated.”

NSAC, which represents smaller, environmentally minded farmers and ranchers, also said Trump’s “first budget request includes the deepest cuts to rural development programs since their creation.”

Adding details to the “skinny” budget’s statement that discretionary rural development prorams would be eliminated, NSAC said that would mean the end the Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program, Rural Business Development Grants (RBDG) program, Rural Cooperative Development Grants (RCDG), Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program (B&I), Community Facilities Grants and Loans, and Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) program.

“In doing so, the president is gutting USDA’s ability to invest in rural enterprise development,” NSAC said. “These programs have a proven track record of success – both in terms of business survivability rates and job creation – and are exactly the type of programs that should be prioritized for increases, not cuts, during the FY 2018 funding cycle.”

NSAC also noted that Trump called for the elimination of the water and wastewater management programs, “which aim to address one of rural America’s biggest infrastructure problems.”

Although USDA’s discretionary budget is only a small portion of its overall budget that includes mandatory farm and nutrition programs, Ricardo Salvador, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the 21 percent decrease in funding for the Agriculture Department is “proportionally the third largest reduction of any federal agency.”

“While scant on details, the president’s proposed USDA budget slashes funding for programs vital to farmers and rural Americans,” Salvador said. “Suggestions of private-sector conservation planning and changes to priorities in the USDA Research, Education, and Economics mission area budget open the door to further cuts to popular and proven programs that support farmers and benefit taxpayers.”

“The Trump administration claims to use ‘an evidence based approach to improving programs and services [by] using real, hard data,’ yet this budget shows the contrary,” Salvador said.

“We should invest in programs that employ science-based practices proven to increase farmer profits and yields while ensuring clean air and water for all. This proposal is just the first step in the FY2018 budget and appropriations process. We look forward to defending the programs that are critical to farmers, rural America and a healthy environment.”

SoAR calls for full funding for AFRI

“We appreciate that the administration’s budget holds [the Agriculture Food Research Initiative] funding at $350 million, but we need to do more,” said Thomas Grumbly, president of the Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation (SoAR).

“Even in the current era of belt-tightening, AFRI’s budget has always had modest growth because Congress has always understood the importance of agricultural research,” Grumbly said. “But to stay competitive, we need AFRI to be fully funded. As the next farm bill gets written and debated, how to fund more research is a question that has to be answered. Our agriculture sector — an economic pillar for the heartland of our country — lies in the balance.”

–The Hagstrom Report