On March 16, 2017, President Trump unveiled his 2018 federal budget and also his disregard for the rural Americans who elected him. During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly promised to focus on revitalizing rural and small-town industries. Trump claimed "family farms are the backbone of this country" and that "coal is coming back." Trump promised he would rebuild small towns and rural communities and "create massive numbers of jobs." However, his budget does not reflect these campaign promises, but instead focuses on military and defense spending while eviscerating funding for many federal programs like those that assist the poor, fund scientific research, and protect the environment.
Trump's budget, called the "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again," dramatically increases military defense spending while slashing funds from 18 other agencies. Some of the hardest hit agencies are the Environmental Protection Agency (30% cut), the Agriculture department (20% cut), the Labor department (20% cut), and the State department (20%). Many of these agencies provide critical services to rural Americans.
Trump's budget blueprint cuts the Department of Transportation by 13%, about $2.4 billion. This contradicts Trump's campaign promises, including a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure development. Trump's budget eliminates $500 million of funds that go to rural water, trash, street drainge and sewage improvements and $500 million slated to improve surface transportation. Past projects include a rural water treatment plant in Strong City, Kansas that served only 500 homes and businesses and was made possible by $2.7 million in federal grants.
The proposed federal budget also slashes funding for USDA’s Rural Development office, which runs the Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBS). This program supports business development and job opportunities in rural communities, but it is labeled “duplicative” by Trump's budget. According to the USDA’s 2016 annual progress report, RBS investments helped more than 7,000 businesses and created or saved 37,190 jobs across Rural America. RBS also helped more than 15,000 rural businesses by providing $1.8 billion in loans, loan guarantees, and grants. For instance, this funding helps to provide an intensive 33-week job training program in Eastern Kentucky that teaches residents computer coding from scratch and pays them while they learn. This program allows rural residents to get jobs, like as an Apple iOS developer, that pay more than the minimum wage jobs they would work at otherwise. However, these jobs do not fit with the nostalgia that is often attached to rural work.
Trump's agenda will also cost rural and small town areas clean energy job opportunities by cutting federal subsidies for wind energy. The U.S. wind energy industry is a powerful economic driver, providing 102,000 jobs across the country, many of which are in rural communities. Wind farms pay $222 million per year to rural farmers and landowners, with $156 million going to counties with lower than average incomes. Last year, wind farms and the solar industry produced nearly 35,000 more rural jobs than the coal industry did. In fact, the coal industry has been losing jobs over the last decade and now only employs 50,000 people. However, Trump focuses on saving the coal industry by pushing to repeal the Clean Power Plan and a rule prohibiting dumping of coal mining waste into streams.
Trump's proposed budget also eliminates many programs, most of which serve low-income Americans. Trump's budget proposes a $7.7 billion spending cut for HUD programs. Three of four of major HUD programs providing flexible assistance to poor rural communities would be eliminated entirely (HOME, Community Development Block Grants, and the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative). For instance, Community Development Block Grants provide funds to repair crumbling housing stock, assist struggling individuals and families stay in their homes, and maintain systems that preserve access to clean water and protect Americans from toxic waste. Altogether, poor urban and rural committees would lose $4.3 billion that would have been used to upgrade basic infrastructure (like sewer and water lines), promote economic development, and build affordable low-income housing.
The proposed 2018 federal budget will also negatively impact rural public schools by increasing funding to school-choice voucher programs by $1.4 billion. As discussed in a previous blog post, school-choice voucher do not work well in rural areas because often there are no charter or private schools to choose. At the same time, the budget cuts 15 cents of ever $1 spent on successful initiatives by the Education Department, like federal work-study, teacher training, and after-school and summer-school programs for low-income students. In total, the budget reduces funding for the Department of Education by 13.5% or $9.2 billion. As discussed in a previous blog post, school-choice voucher programs do not wok in rual areas which do not have enough students to support multiple schools for the same grade span and would threaten the financial stability of existing public schools.
Finally, Trump’s proposed federal budget will eliminate funding for legal aid, which provides access to justice for many low-income rural Americans. The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) provides funding to 134 legal aid programs in every congressional district, but it is particularly important to rural areas and small towns where lawyers are scarce (see previous blog posts here and here). Without federal funding, legal aid programs will need to scale back their operations and even close offices leaving more poor Americans without access to justice.
Rahm Emanuel commented, “Budgets are a reflection of your priorities, and we know exactly what this administration’s priorities are…” Trump’s priorities are not helping rural Americans. But this budget does not come as a surprise. Trump has already reneged on other campaign promises, like healthcare for all by supporting the disastrous American Health Care Act (see previous blog post). However, this egregious bait and switch clearly lets down the rural communities who helped to elect President Trump thinking he could actually make America great again.