What Trump's Budget Proposal Means For Vermont

Mar 16, 2017

The federal budget proposal released this week by the Trump administration makes some major changes to the way the federal government spends its money. Many of those changes could have big implications for Vermonters.

Some of the new budget's changes, like increased military spending and an expanded budget for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, could mean increased business for Vermont’s defense contractors and new jobs and services at Veterans Affairs clinics in Vermont.

Other changes would eliminate or reduce federal funds sent to Vermont to support a wide array of services and programs, from live poetry contests (the "Poetry Out Loud" competition is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts) to economic development grants in the Northeast Kingdom to heating assistance for low-income Vermonters.

The proposed budget still needs to be passed by Congress in order to take effect, and many of the changes would play out over months or years.

On Thursday, Vermont’s delegation strongly criticized the proposal. In an email statement, Sen.  Patrick Leahy, who is the Senate Appropriations Committee vice chairman, said: “Like some of the President’s tweets, the Trump budget is a hasty list of appallingly unbalanced, shortsighted, politically driven priorities.”

In an effort to understand the potential impacts of the proposed budget on Vermont, VPR dug into Trump’s proposal and compared that to existing federal funding now coming into the state.

AmeriCorps | Housing and Heating | Food Assistance | Water and The Environment | Energy |Science | Arts and Humanities | Economic Development | Legal Aid | Media

We asked some of the Vermont agencies and non-profits and researched funding numbers online to put together this list, but this is not a comprehensive account of the proposed budget's effects in Vermont. If you know of other ways the proposed budget could impact Vermont's people or institutions, please leave a comment at the bottom of this post, or send an email to share@vpr.net.

AmeriCorps

The proposed budget would entirely de-fund the Corporation for National and Community Service, which was created under President Bill Clinton and is the funding apparatus behind AmeriCorps.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, which pays AmeriCorps members while they do work in local communities, there are more than 340 AmeriCorps members in Vermont.

The Corporation for National and Community Service website says there are plans to invest $6.2 million in Vermont this year.

Housing and Heating

In total, if the proposed budget were passed, Vermont would lose approximately $12 million in affordable housing funds, according to Brenda Torpy, CEO of the Champlain Housing Trust. Here is how that breaks down:

Trump’s proposed budget calls for a complete de-funding of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, or NeighborWorks America. That program provides federal funding for developing affordable housing and communities. Vermont would immediately lose $1.8 million in funding should this happen.

Cuts from the HOME Program, a federal-state partnership grant program, would reduce Vermont’s affordable housing budget by $3.4 million.

CDBG (Community Development Block Grants) would also be slashed, further cutting Vermont’s affordable housing budget by $7.2 million.

On Thursday, Torpy told VPR: “I can tell you  that affordable housing will grind to a halt if these cuts are passed.”

The proposed budget includes plans to de-fund the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps low-income Vermonters pay for heat in their homes. According to the Vermont Department for Children and Families, Vermonters will get about $18.9 million in LIHEAP funding this year.

The Vermont Weatherization Assistance program would be at diminished capacity under the proposed Trump administration budget, but officials say the program would have enough funding to continue.

According to Geoff Wilcox, the weatherization program administrator for the Department for Children and Families, about 12 percent of the program’s funds come from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to support home weatherization projects in Vermont.

“The remainder comes from the home weatherization assistance program funds, which are state-funded based on the fuel tax,” Wilcox said.

According to Wilcox, that cut translates to about $1.2 million, or – perhaps more to the point – 117 Vermont homes weatherized per year. The program currently weatherizes about 900 homes annually.

Food Assistance

The Meals on Wheels program has been in the news nationally as an example of one of the programs that would be cut by the Trump budget, but advocates in Vermont say the future of federal funding isn’t yet clear for the state’s Meals on Wheels programs.

Beth Stern, the executive director of the Central Vermont Council on Aging, said Vermont’s Meals on Wheels programs don’t get funding from the Community Development Block Grants that help fund many Meals on Wheels Programs nationally. Those grants are slated for cuts under Trump’s proposed budget (see the Housing and Heating section of this post), but Vermont’s Meals on Wheels programs would not be affected.

“So the cut to the Community Development Block Grant that people are saying will effect Meals on Wheels [nationwide] will not affect Meals on Wheels in Vermont,” Stern said Tuesday.

The problem, Stern said, is that the Trump administration hasn’t made it clear how it might change the funding stream the Vermont programs do use - the Older Americans Act of 1965.

“They haven’t been able to drill down to that level of detail, and I’m not even sure that that level of detail exists yet,” she said. “So we are concerned about the Older Americans Act programs including Meals on Wheels and all of our nutrition programs, but we just don’t know yet what the funding will be.”

That uncertainty adds to existing finances anxiety among organizations like Stern’s. Those programs have been level-funded for years, she said, even as the number of elderly Vermonters grows.

“So we are operating with essentially budgets that are going down compared to actual costs,” Stern said.

Water and The Environment

The budget proposed by President Trump seeks to cut $4.7 billion from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s discretionary spending budget – or about a 21% reduction.

As part of that reduction plan, the Waste & Water Disposal Loan & Grant Program would be eliminated entirely. Trump’s budget calls the program duplicative, and the administration says the needs met by this program could be better handled by the private sector or with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, which would also see a reduction in funding under Trump's budget.

According to the USDA website, the program “provides funding for clean and reliable drinking water systems, sanitary sewage disposal, sanitary solid waste disposal, and storm water drainage to households and businesses in eligible rural areas.”

During the 2016 year over $18.5 million was allocated to projects throughout the state of Vermont through the program.

The largest of these grants went to Saxtons River to “upgrade the existing wastewater treatment facility, addressing issues of aging components and high operational costs for repairs.”

Officials at the USDA were not immediately available for comment on how this would affect projects currently in progress, but should Trump’s budget pass, none of the program's funding would continue in 2018.

Julie Moore, the commissioner of the Agency of Natural Resources says the state receives about $12 million dollars annually in the form of State and Tribal Assistant Grants from the federal government.

A lot of that money goes to the Department of Environmental Conservation, which is responsible for a wide range of water quality and air quality efforts in addition to enforcing some environmental regulations.

According to Moore, those federal grants pay for about a third of the Department of Environmental Conservation's roughly 300 staff.

Moore said those federal grants would be cut by 45 percent under Trump's plan. It's not clear how much those cuts would impact funding to Vermont.

Energy

The Trump administration’s proposed budget would eliminate the State Energy Program, which is managed by the federal Department of Energy. Kelly Launder, the assistant director of the Planning and Energy Resources Division within the Department of Public Service, said the department receives about $260,000 annually in State Energy Program funds.

That money pays for staff at the department to work on efforts such as the state’s Comprehensive Energy Plan, clean energy financing and other state-level energy policy efforts, Launder said.

“It really has to be energy activities, pretty broadly defined. They leave it up to the states on how best to use those dollars,” she said.

Vermont officials use some of the money to fund small grants in support of energy efficiency or other energy policy priorities. Launder said that in addition to the roughly $260,000 in annual funding for the department, the State Energy Program also awards competitive grant money that has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars for distributed generation development in Vermont, among other projects.

Launder says that because the federal budget process is still in its early stages, The Department of Public Service hasn't yet made a contingency plan for what to do if Congress agrees to eliminate the State Energy Program.

Science

In Fiscal Year 2016, the National Institutes of Health awarded the University of Vermont a total of nearly $45 million in support of a wide range of research and health projects, according to NIH data. The funding was earmarked to support 105 different projects, including the study of cancer’s effects on human skeletal muscles, the creation of a Vermont Center on Tobacco Regulatory Science, the study of withdrawal symptoms caused by reducing e-cigarette use, and improving the use of contraceptives among women addicted to opiates.

Another $3.75 million from NIH was distributed to other Vermont recipients, including Middlebury College and four private businesses, according to NIH data.

The total to Vermont in Fiscal Year 2016, according to NIH: $48,758,135.

Under Trump’s proposed budget, the NIH faces an 18 percent budget reduction nationally. Because NIH funding is awarded on a project-by-project basis, it’s nearly impossible to say how Trump’s budget would change the flow of funds into Vermont. The only thing that’s clear is that if Trump’s budget is approved, there will be less NIH money available nationally.

Arts and Humanities

This year, Vermont is receiving about $1 million in federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and about $853,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), according to recipients of that money.

About $715,000 of the money from the NEA goes the the Vermont Council on the Arts. Alex Aldrich is the executive director of the Vermont Council on the Arts, and he says the state legislature matches that funding to support arts in Vermont. Aldrich said the proposed federal budget calls all of that into question, since the numerous cuts proposed would force lawmakers to find money in the state budget to cover some of those shortfalls.

Aldrich’s message to Trump: “If you knock one of the legs out from under that support by cutting the NEA and other institutions, you’re really going to create a crash that’s going to be very loud and very difficult to recover from.”

About $300,000 of the National Endowment for the Arts funding to Vermont goes directly to eight to 12 grantees around the state each year, Aldrich said, such as the Flynn Center in Burlington or the Vermont Performance Lab in Guilford.

The Vermont Humanities Council works with non-profits, schools, hospitals, prisons and other community organizations on programs like “Vermont Reads” and the “First Wednesdays” lecture series. The council is getting about $580,000 this year to support that work, according to executive director Peter Gilbert, with another $273,000 going directly to other humanities efforts in the state.

Gilbert said Trump’s budget plan, if approved, would be a “staggering loss” for the Humanities Council.

Economic Development

The proposed federal budget would entirely eliminate funding for a number of regional economic development efforts around the country, including the Northern Border Regional Commission, which funds economic development projects in Vermont’s (and other states') northern border communities.

According to data from the commission, northern Vermont is getting $1.8 million through that federal funding stream this year.

Legal Aid

The Legal Services Corporation is a vessel for federal funding to support free legal help for low-income people. In Vermont, the Legal Services Law Line of Vermont received $490,600 in 2016 to provide free legal help to Vermonters.

In addition, the law line won a two-year, $246,000 federal grant in October from the Legal Services Corporation to expand services.

The budget proposed by the Trump administration would eliminate all funding provided through the Legal Services Corporation.

Media

Under Trump’s proposed budget the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be eliminated entirely.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created by Congress in the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. This federal funding is the largest single source of funding for public radio and television with the intention of creating a nonpartisan and public stream of public information. The 1967 Act passed by Congress requires the CPB to operate with a "strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature".

Annual funding for the CPB has been level at $445 million for several years. That amounts to about $1.35 per American taxpayer per year.

The CPB faced prior political challenges during the Reagan and the George W. Bush Administrations.

Locally, VPR and Vermont PBS are partially federally funded. In 2016 VPR received $754,000 from CPB funding - about 10 percent of VPR’s budgeted revenue. Vermont PBS receives about $1 million annually from CPB.

Update March 17, 2017 11:22 a.m. This post has been updated to include information about the U.S. Department of Agriculture Waste & Water Disposal Loan & Grant Program.

Update March 21, 2017 2:24 p.m. This post has been updated to include information from the Central Vermont Council On Aging about the funding source for Meals on Wheels programs in Vermont.

Update March 21, 2017 3:27 p.m. This post has been updated to include Fiscal Year 2016 data for funding awarded to Vermont institutions from the National Institutes of Health.

Update March 23, 2017 4:46 p.m. This post has been updated to reflect the proposed budget's effects on the State Energy Program as well as the Vermont Weatherization Assistance Program.

Do you know of other ways the proposed federal budget would effect Vermont? Let us know in the comments below, or email share@vpr.net.