A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rural areas, seniors would be hurt by proposed budget

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., April 3, 4 or 5

The dozens of cuts in “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” – the White House proposal to slash social spending to move money to military spending – would profoundly affect rural areas and older Americans.

Slashing 20.7 percent from the Department of Agriculture and cuts to other cabinet offices would hurt funding for rural water infrastructure, rural development programs helping community banks and other small-town institutions, the bipartisan International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program (IFEP – launched by U.S. Sens. Bob Dole and George McGovern), the Essential Air program helping rural airports, and the Great Lakes Restoration program (cut 97 percent – not a typo).

Health and Human Services’ 16.2 percent cut and Housing and Urban Development’s 13.2 percent cut would decimate Meals on Wheels, a welcome, successful and non-controversial program that grew out of 1965’s bipartisan Older Americans Act. It now helps 2.4 million seniors, and about one-third of its budget comes from federal funds. Advocates say Meals on Wheels saves taxpayers billions in health-care costs by letting seniors stay in their homes.

Personally, seniors who get Meals on Wheels appreciate it – and need it. When my schedule gave me Fridays off, I volunteered hot-meal deliveries for years at one of the country’s 5,000 local Meals on Wheels programs, and recipients ranged from needy neighbors a bit embarrassed by the “nutrition attention” to shut-ins who enjoyed a few minutes of socializing. (One woman dubbed me her “Man Friday.”)

That’s not good enough, according to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good,” Mulvaney said. “Meals on Wheels sounds great. [But] that’s a state decision to take the federal money and say, ‘Look, we want to give you money for programs that don’t work.’ We cannot defend that anymore.”

Steelworkers president Leo Gerard did defend it – and more.

“Mulvaney asserted that members of my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), coal miners and urban parents are eager to kill off Public Broadcasting’s Big Bird, to drink lead-laden water, to breathe cough-inducing air and to work among life-threatening dangers,” Gerard said. “This illustrates a complete lack of knowledge of the working and living conditions of huge swaths of Americans.”

Meanwhile, the hastily sketched plan for Fiscal Year 2018 – mostly a list of programs disliked by the White House and right-wing think tanks –would boost the Defense Department by 9 percent (some $54 billion) to $603 billion, a record level. Already, the United States spends more than the next nine nations COMBINED – more than one-third of the world’s entire military expenditures. According to the nonpartisan international IHS Markit (Information Handling Services) and its Jane’s Defence Industry division – the Pentagon is spending more than China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, India, Germany, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, put together.

The proposed federal budget also includes a $3 billion down-payment on a border wall that the administration claims will cost $21 billion, although others argue the figure could be much higher for taxpayers, both directly through taxes and indirectly through higher prices if a trade war with Mexico starts.

Here are seven key, cabinet-level cuts: Commerce -15.7 percent; Education -13.5 percent; Environmental Protection Agency -31.4 percent; Labor -20.7 percent; State -28.7 percent; Transportation -12.7 percent; and Treasur -4.4 percent

Besides that broad outline of department cuts, the budget eliminates more than 60 government programs and agencies. Education’s $9.2 billion cut includes shifting $1.8 billion from public to private schools, including charter schools and voucher schemes (encouraging parents to abandon community education).

Other programs set to be sacrificed include heating assistance for seniors, the Senior Community Service Employment Program, student aid for work/study, benefits to help wounded vets’ recovery, nutritional help for babies born to low-income moms, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services;

Job Corps, Amtrak, Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program, the Congressionally chartered Legal Services Corp. providing free civil legal advice to the poor;

Americorps, foreign aid, National Public Radio, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, and almost half of Health and Human Services cuts are in funds for National Institute of Health research.

Finally, what does the proposed budget and its priorities say?

It shows us that funding for people matters less than sending money to defense contractors and those with vested interests in armed conflicts.


[PICTURED: Cartoon by Gary Huck, Huck/Konopacki Cartoons.]

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