COLUMBIA — On March 16, the White House released a proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year that included sweeping cuts to a wide variety of programs and federal grants, while boosting defense spending by $52 billion.
The 62-page budget proposal — often referred to as a “skinny budget” — is a long way from becoming law. In fact, the 2017 fiscal budget has yet to be passed.
The $54 billion in cuts come from around the government; the only three agencies that avoid the knife are the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the Office of Veterans Affairs.
Of the departments that would face severe cuts, the hardest hit would be the Environmental Protection Agency, with a 31.4 percent decrease. Others include:
- Department of Education — down 13.5 percent
- Department of Health and Human Services — down 16.2 percent
- Department of Transportation — down 12.7 percent
- Department of Housing and Urban Development — down 13.2 percent
But while some departments face cuts, several federal programs were singled out by the budget to be eliminated. Some of the more widely known programs to be placed on the chopping block are: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and Community Development Block grants, which often fund Meals on Wheels.
Here's a look at how the cuts, if approved, would affect Columbia.
Legal Services Corporation
Mid-Missouri Legal Services receives some $452,000, or 42 percent of its yearly budget, from the federal Legal Services Corporation. So, according to Executive Director Susan Lutton, the elimination of Legal Services Corporation and its grant program would have a huge impact.
Legal Services Corporation’s Basic Field Grants "provide funding to support delivery of high-quality civil legal services and access to justice to low-income people throughout the U.S.,” according to the department’s website.
That's what Mid-Missouri Legal Services does.
“Basically, MMLS is the free legal aid provider for low-income people in central Missouri,” Lutton said.
The central Missouri region encompasses 11 counties: Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Chariton, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Miller, Moniteau, Osage and Randolph.
“What we do is help people who have civil problems,” she said. “We’re not the public defender office. The closest we come to that is that we do a lot of orders of protection. That’s probably the biggest category of cases that we handle, the domestic violence and sexual violence cases."
“Probably 40 percent of all of our cases involve violence," she said. "So even though we don’t prosecute crimes, we actually help the victims get out of the situations that they’re in through civil matters in court.”
Mid-Missouri Legal Services handles 1,145 cases a year, according to Lutton. In addition to handling civil matters, the organization sees 200–250 housing-law cases a year through its homelessness prevention project, the majority of which involve children. The third primary category of work that the legal service does is in health.
“A lot of people who have tried to get onto different health programs and have encountered some kind of a problem, or they’ve had a specific procedure that’s been denied, we help them with that,” Lutton said.
And the list, Lutton said, goes on: public benefits, employment, unemployment, consumer law and mortgage foreclosure.
When asked about potentially losing the funding from the Legal Services Corporation's Basic Field Grant, Lutton said, “The fewer staff you have, the fewer people you can help.”
“If we did 1,145 cases last year, and you figure out what 42 percent of that is — it’s about 481 cases — it would make a huge impact on the number of cases we could handle.”
Not to mention, she said, “the work that we do saves the community money. When you think about the harm that victims of domestic violence and sexual violence incur, much of the time it’s a large medical cost to the community.”
The same thing goes for the health care work.
“Your children are sitting across the aisle in school from other children, who, if they are untreated because of some medical diagnosis, it spreads and it increases the cost,” she said.
She continued, “The risk of homelessness actually damages people’s well being and health. Police costs go up, hospital costs go up, medical centers that are required by law to help people when they present at the door, those costs all increase if people don’t get appropriate legal help.”
Mid-Missouri Legal Services already turns away one out of every two people who call due to resources, Lutton said. “So, the impact that a 42 percent cut on our budget would have would just be tremendous.”
Community Service Block Grant
Run by the Office of Community Service under the Department of Health and Human Services, the Community Service Block Grant’s purpose is “provides funds to alleviate the causes and conditions of poverty in communities.”
One Columbia organization that receives that grant funding is Central Missouri Community Action.
The organization, which operates in eight counties, receives between 50 and 55 grants and contracts, many of which are federal, and several of which were earmarked for cuts in the White House’s budget.
In addition to the Community Service Block Grant, they receive funding from at least two other sources that are facing the ax: the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program, according to Executive Director Darin Preis of the organization.
Fortunately, Preis said, the organization’s biggest source of funding is Head Start, which was not singled out for cuts.
Still, he said, “90 percent of our $16.7 million budget is federal.”
The goal of Central Missouri Community Action, Preis said, “is to move people out of poverty and off of public assistance. In a perfect world, we’d be working ourselves out of business.
“We work with (people) wherever they are, and we help them put together a plan for their future.”
Some of their programs include: housing assistance, Head Start, weatherization, utility assistance and Missouri work assistance. The goal for these programs is to stabilize individuals and help get them out of crisis, Preis said.
The weatherization program involves doing energy audits of people's homes. If a residence is in need of repair, Central Missouri Community Action subcontracts HVAC companies to add insulation, replace windows and water heaters, and any other measures necessary to make the home energy efficient. All at no cost to the resident.
That program is a really good example, Preis said. “Somebody who is reading about these issues and they’re thinking, ‘Well, poor people should just work harder,’ there’s actually a broader impact on our community. We’ve got $16 million we’re spending, all of that money stays local. It’s going to landlords, it’s going to local contractors, it’s going to vendors.
“Anything that a traditional business would need, we’re buying those things. Our auditor tells us, ‘You can take that $16 million that we spend locally and multiply it up to eight times,'” Preis said. “When we pay an HVAC contractor, they’re also paying their employees, those employees are going to the grocery store and buying groceries and paying their mortgage. It has nearly a $100 million impact.”
Preis was quick to point out that the proposed budget is a long way from being adopted. He did, however, mention the 2013 budget sequestration, when he had to lay off employees and cut certain programs, as an example of what could come. (Implemented by Congress and former President Obama, the sequestration was designed to cut $1.2 trillion in spending over nine years from across government.)
“The ideas included in (Trump's) skinny budget would have a pretty dramatic impact. We’d probably lose 50 employees of our 233. That would be several million dollars that aren’t coming to the local economy," Preis said.
“I’m not sure what the philosophy is, but the problem does not go away when you stop funding it. In fact, the problem’s going to get lots worse. General community cohesion starts to be at risk.”
Community Development Block Grant
Began in 1974, the Community Development Block Grant, is one of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s longest running programs. According to the department, the grant “is a flexible program that provides communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs.”
In Columbia and Boone County, a number of organizations receive funding through the Community Development Block Grant program. One of them is Job Point.
A Community Development Corporation, Job Point is an employment center that has been operating in Columbia since 1965.
Last year, according to President and CEO Steven A. Smith, Job Point served 418 individuals, with the average starting wage of $10.27. And of those placed with jobs, 87 percent maintained their employment for at least 90 days.
In the face of budget cuts, Smith said, “we feel we have a very strong case to show the outcomes. For instance, the people that we placed in jobs last year at Job Point earned more collectively than our annual operating budget.
“We’re helping people become productive in society and, in many cases, raise themselves out of poverty,” he said. “Who can be against that?”
So, while he acknowledges that changes will likely be made, his main priority is ensuring that Job Point continues to receive some sort of funding.
“Let’s prioritize programs that perform well and are efficient with their money,” he said. “I think there are a number of those organizations in Columbia, not just us.”
The Community Development Block Grant is best known for funding Meals on Wheels. In Columbia, though, Meals on Wheels doesn’t receive any federal funding.
“It was a conscious effort on the agency’s part,” said Executive Director JoNetta Weaver of Meals on Wheels. “Because it makes it very difficult for seniors to be able to depend on food.”
Where the proposed budget is concerned, Weaver said, “we’ve been through this before.”
Like Preis, Weaver mentioned the 2013 sequestration. “The same thing was going on (then), and then the budget couldn’t get through all the steps, and that did affect some Meals on Wheels in the United States. Not us,” she said.
“My personal philosophy is that no good business depends on only one funding source,” Weaver said. “Because any funder can decide that they’re going to change where they want their funding to go. And we know that that is a potential, and we should never put ourselves at risk.”
“The message I want the community to hear is, how very perfect (our) model is. It’s people taking care of people. We sometimes get in the mindset of, ‘The government has to take care of us.’ Well, we’re better than that.
“We have to understand that the basic goodness of people does exist and they do step up, and they do take care of their neighbors, and they do advocate for seniors.”
Economic Development Administration
Founded in 1965 under the Public Works and Economic Development Act, the Economic Development Administration fosters “the conditions for economic growth and improved quality of life by expanding the capacity of individuals, firms, and communities to maximize the use of their talents and skills to support innovation, lower transaction costs, and responsibly produce and trade valuable goods and services.”
Like many organizations, the Mid-Missouri Regional Planning Commission receives funds from a variety of federal sources, including the Economic Development Administration and the Community Development Block Grant.
Federal funding “helps offset staff time as we work with communities to develop necessary projects,” said Edward Siegmund, executive director of the commission.
The Monsanto Life Science Business Incubator, the Kemper redevelopment project and an infrastructure improvement project at Discovery Ridge for MU are among the projects that have been funded by the Economic Development Administration, Siegmund said.
“If those funds go away, there’s not going to be funding support for those projects,” Siegmund said. But, he said, he was hopeful that wouldn't happen.
Corporation for National and Community Service
The department under which the AmeriCorps and the Senior Corps operate, the Corporation for National and Community Service has 5,350 service members working at over 1,000 locations in Missouri alone. In Boone County more than 200 service members work at 50 different locations, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri, Refugee and Immigration Services, Jumpstart Missouri and several Head Start programs.
In an email interview, Press Secretary Samantha Jo Warfield of the Corporation for National and Community Service said that since 1994, 14,000 residents have served over 21 million hours for the service and received more than $46.9 million in education awards.
News of the skinny budget was “disappointing,” Warfield said. “We know that national service tackles tough problems while transforming those who serve, adding unique value to America’s nonprofits and communities."
She continued, “(Service members) are preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs, reducing crime and reviving cities, connecting returning veterans to jobs, fighting the opioid epidemic, supporting seniors to live independently and with dignity, making college more accessible and affordable, and helping Americans rebuild their lives following a disaster, all while providing Americans an opportunity to exercise their civic duty by serving their country.”
And while the future remains uncertain, Warfield said that the Corporation for National and Community Service will continue "to operate as usual, and will do so until a new budget is enacted by Congress.”
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed