Analysis: Trump’s budget squeezes struggling Mainers to pay for giveaways to top 1 percent, wealthy corporations

The tax bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in December created a $1.5 trillion hole in the federal budget to create huge windfalls for wealthy families and corporations. Now, President Trump has released his federal budget proposal, which indicates that he would follow House Speaker Paul Ryan’s stated goal of paying for those giveaways with cuts aimed at struggling Americans.

The president’s budget will increase economic inequality and create new hardship for low- and moderate-income Americans. Meanwhile, state and local governments will be left to deal with new costs as people seek help to address hunger, poverty and homelessness because of cuts to federally funded forms of assistance.

Trump budget would put Mainers’ health care on the chopping block

Some of the most harmful provisions of the Trump budget cut access to health coverage for millions of Americans. This approach is in stark contrast to popular movements to expand access to coverage in Maine and in other states across the country. Maine’s new law passed last November will provide life-saving health care to more than 70,000 Mainers by accepting federal funds made available by the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act has proved hugely successful in expanding access to health care for millions of Americans. The Trump budget would undermine that success by cutting Medicaid and eliminating marketplace subsidies that make coverage affordable for consumers and replacing those subsidies with block grants worth far less over the next 10 years than the subsidies are worth under current law. The total cuts to Medicaid and subsidies amount to $763 billion over the next decade.

These cuts threaten coverage for the tens of thousands of Mainers and millions of Americans who obtain coverage through the ACA. According to the most recent report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Mainers obtained more than 75,800 health insurance plans for 2018 because of the ACA. Nationwide, the ACA has provided coverage to just under 12 million Americans according to the latest AP tally.

What’s more, President Trump’s budget would establish caps on coverage for Medicaid regardless of the actual cost of health care for enrollees and would allow states to weaken consumer protections for people with pre-existing health conditions, opening the door for insurance companies to once again deny coverage to Mainers.

Trump’s cuts would leave more than 39,500 Maine households in the cold

President Trump proposes a 14.2 percent reduction in funding for Housing and Urban Development, including the total elimination of federal funding for LIHEAP – the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

LIHEAP is an essential program in states such as Maine, where extremely cold seasonal temperatures pose a life-or-death risk to vulnerable households. In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, more than 39,500 households in Maine received assistance through LIHEAP, with an average heating assistance benefit of $702.

Nearly three in four participating Maine households contained one or more vulnerable family members. Those include seniors, young children or family members with a disability.

Trump budget would increase child hunger by taking scissors to the safety net

The Trump budget contains cuts to a broad range of public assistance programs that would hurt low- and moderate-income people in Maine, including parents, kids, elders and the disabled.  Some of these cuts are record setting in that they are larger than any ever enacted.

The Trump budget would cut the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, SNAP, funding by nearly 30 percent over the next 10 years – a cut worth $213 billion. SNAP address hunger by allowing Maine families, mostly families with children, to put food on the table. Whereas national food insecurity rates have declined since 2011, due in part to the success of SNAP, Maine’s rate has risen steadily since 2004 as resources for families haven’t kept up with need. In Maine, the average benefit provided by SNAP is just $1.20 per family member, per meal. Cuts to federal food assistance in Trump’s budget will only exacerbate hunger in Maine.

Today, Maine ranks seventh in the nation and first in New England for food insecurity, according to a study by Dr. Sandra Butler, professor of social work at the University of Maine (and a MECEP board member). One in five Maine children doesn’t have access to enough food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the federal food assistance program known as SNAP. Of the food insecure households in our state, 43 percent suffer “very low food security,” meaning one or more member of the household went without food and suffered from hunger at some point in the past year. By this measure, Maine is the third-worst in the nation.

Other cuts to the program would hit Mainers particularly hard: The Trump budget would require states to cut off assistance for unemployed adults without children after three months unless they lived in a region with unemployment above 10 percent.

Not a single Maine community, from hard-hit former mill towns to interior rural regions where Mainers are struggling to find work, would meet this ludicrously high threshold. Indeed, the proposed law seems crafted to guarantee assistance would be taken away from Mainers when they need help the most.

Trump’s budget plan would put education out of reach for low- and moderate-income Mainers

The Trump budget proposal would cut federal student loan programs by more than $200 billion over the next decade, and would freeze Pell grant awards at 2017 levels, reducing the value of the Pell grant relative to rising tuition costs.

What’s worse, the Trump budget would eliminate the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which supplements the Pell grant for students with the greatest financial barriers to higher education. The SEOG provides $733 million in grants to makes college more affordable for 1.5 million of the lowest-income students in the country, including more than 11,000 Mainers as recently as the 2014-2015 school year. The Trump budget also cuts funding for work-study, another essential program for helping students afford college.

Sixty percent of jobs in Maine will require a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2020, and obtaining a post-secondary credential reduces poverty by boosting lifetime earnings, according to recent analysis by my colleague James Myall. The Trump budget would put up significant barriers for the thousands of Mainers who rely on financial aid to train for quality jobs and hurts Maine’s workforce and economy in the long term.

Trump budget undermines opportunity

The major takeaway is this: Trump’s budget proposal would only worsen the fallout from the deeply flawed and harmful tax plan approved in December. That tax plan ultimately increases taxes on low-income and middle-class families while delivering massive handouts to powerful groups such as the wealthy, big corporations and elite foreign investors. The Trump budget further tilts the playing field to undermine opportunity in America and pull the rug out from under low and moderate-income Americans by dismantling the foundation for upward mobility. Lawmakers in Congress should reject Trump’s budget and craft a bill that protects and strengthens working families and the middle class.

For more on the effect Trump’s budget would have on the states, click here. For a high-level primer of the entire proposal, click here.