Policy Corner: May updates from Janet Forbush

Written by Janet Forbush, Senior Advisor with the Center for the Advancement of Mentoring

May 2017

Trump Fiscal Year 2018 Federal Budget Proposal

The Trump administration unveiled their proposed fiscal year 2018 budget earlier this week featuring 13 major initiatives, nine of which outline draconian spending cuts aimed chiefly at programs and services impacting low-income families.  The request claims to balance the federal budget in 10 years by slashing $1.7 trillion from virtually every program that helps reduce poverty and support ordinary working Americans.  Programs affected span several agencies including the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing, Justice, Labor, and the Corporation for National and Community Service.  This column is intended to frame the array of proposed cuts to provide a context for Chronicle readers.

The scope of the proposed cuts is staggering and gives us pause to reflect on one of the many signal mentoring research articles contributed by Jean Rhodes and colleagues in recent years entitled “First Do No Harm:  Ethical Principles for Youth Mentoring Relationships.”  If ever at any time there was need for a similarly themed contribution on ethical principles for public policy priorities, this is it!  Key programs that are targeted for substantial cuts affecting children, youth, and families are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – reduction of 29%; Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – reduction of 19%; Medicaid – reduction of 17%; and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – reduction of 13%.  The cut to SNAP would turn the clock back decades to the time before we had a national anti-hunger program, requiring for the first time that states pay for a portion of SNAP benefits.  SNAP plays a critical role in providing a nutritional “floor” to all people regardless of the state in which they live.

These proposed disinvestments are more than short-sighted and fly in the face of research evidence that shows the benefits of public investments in low-income families and workers including programs that help children, youth, and adults get a secure start in life including an education and opportunity to get into the workforce.  In that context, the budget proposal would cut funding for the Work-Study program by almost 50%, eliminating employment for more than 300,000 low-income students working their way through college, about 25% of whom have an income below $12,000. 

The proposed budget would also remove $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant budget and outlines freezing the Pell Grant ceiling at $5,920.  That eliminates the past five years of automatic inflation adjustments.

Another startling proposal is to eliminate Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which helps cover college costs for more than 1.6 million students with greatest need each year; abolish subsidized student loans, which prevent interest from accruing on college loans for low- and moderate-income students while they are in school; and end loan forgiveness for students who go into lower-paying, e.g., nonprofit, public service careers.

Workforce training for low-income youth and adults now supported through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which passed Congress in 2014 with considerable bipartisan support is slated for a large cut.  And, the budget would eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers – which often include mentoring, impacting more than one million low-income children and parents who rely on these before-school, after-school, and summer programs.

It is important that Chronicle readers be aware of the implications of proposed cuts on states and cities would be substantial given the significant amount of federal dollars that flow to states through Medicaid, SNAP, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and, the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), just to name a few.

So what is next in this process?  Congress will begin setting spending levels for annually appropriated programs for the federal agencies.  This includes mentoring, youth development, workforce development, career and technical education.  Both the House and Senate will fashion their own take on the new budget which will need to be acted upon by September 30. There is already noticeable pushback from legislators from both political parties on the tenor of this latest Trump administration proposal.  We all have a role to play in this drama.  It is a critical time for each of us to lend our reasoned, seasoned, and informed voices to discussions that will be taking place both on Capitol Hill and in our states and local communities to ensure that we protect support for mentoring.  Your U.S. Senators and Congressional Representative need to hear from you now.


Recommended Resource

The US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty issued a research report in May 2017 “Escaping Poverty – Predictors of Persistently Poor Children’s Economic Success” co-authored by Caroline Ratcliffe and Emma Kalish of the Urban Institute.  The report was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Authors chart the pathways of children in poverty and how their life trajectories are influenced by their socio-economic circumstances.  It draws from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and focuses on children born from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s.  Valuable and current Appendices and Notes will be of interest to Chronicle readers in upcoming grant writing efforts.