Trump Budget Threatens Critical Safety Net Services Locally

For the second year, the Trump Administration proposes to eliminate all funding for the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), threatening the existence of about 1,000 local Community Action Agencies (CAAs) that serve about 16 million low-income people every year. The Trump budget would also eliminate federal funding for other programs that assist families with low incomes in our area, including the Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which help ensure that vulnerable families are able to save on home energy costs and keep their homes heated during the harsh Vermont winters.

It goes without saying that SEVCA and the people we serve would be directly and profoundly affected by such extreme cuts. Congress is unlikely to take such drastic measures, but with the enactment of the Republican tax cut plan in December, which offered huge tax breaks to the richest taxpayers, Congress will face increasing pressure to make major cuts in these and many other essential programs.

SEVCA’s Executive Director, Steve Geller, objected strongly to the Trump Budget: This is the bill now being delivered to hardworking Americans struggling to make ends meet so they can pay for the massive tax cuts delivered to millionaires and big corporations by eliminating or making heartless cuts in virtually every program that helps reduce the hardships of poverty and support ordinary Americans — fuel and housing assistance, Medicaid, food and nutrition assistance, TANF, support for people with disabilities, and many more services that make life better for children, families, and the elderly. Geller added, “This cynical shell game will also undermine state and local budgets, leading to cuts in basic services at the community level as well. And now Trump wants the same people who stand to lose the most from this unfair budget to pay for his wall that he swore he was going to make Mexico pay for. Now we see who’s really going to pay and who’s going to benefit.”

Community Action Agencies use their CSBG grants to develop extensive community partnerships, identify pressing local needs, and mobilize public and private resources to meet those needs. CAAs respond to short-term crises that can topple a working family into poverty, and address chronic conditions that can trap multiple generations in dependency. Thanks to CSBG, they are nimble and respond quickly to emergencies, they are creative and fill service gaps, and they ensure cost-effective use of funds on behalf of their communities and individual families. The Administration’s proposed cuts would devastate the capacity of the CAAs to fulfill their anti-poverty mission.

David Bradley, CEO of the National Community Action Foundation, which represents Community Action Agencies, said: "Cutting CSBG, flexible local dollars that create opportunity for 16 million people across the country, a program with bipartisan support in Congress, abandons every community in America and burdens local communities. Congress--Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate--will not accept this cut."

Both WAP and LIHEAP have enjoyed similar bipartisan support in Congress for many decades. WAP was first authorized by Congress in 1976 to address high energy costs. Since then, the program has created a market for building science-based energy efficiency technologies and services. Agencies focus on homes with high energy use or high energy bills relative to income, prioritizing families with elderly or disabled members, or with children. Families whose homes are weatherized typically experience savings of 20-30% on their energy bills, as well as improved health outcomes. The program also reduces carbon-based emissions that contribute to climate change.

Miguel Orantes of Bellows Falls received Weatherization assistance from SEVCA at a low point in his life, when he had been waiting for months to receive disability benefits after a debilitating accident, followed by a serious illness. Prior to Weatherization, he said he needed four cords of wood plus oil heat to stay warm, and it was much more than he could afford. Now that his home is weatherized, even with the cold winter we’re experiencing now, he says he doesn’t expect to use more than half a cord of wood, and his oil bill is “almost nothing.” “It’s ridiculous to live in an uninsulated home in New England,” Miguel says. “The Weatherization program is a necessity, not a luxury. Cutting it is simply not sustainable.”

The Trump Administration proposal to eliminate funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would put millions of the most vulnerable Americans at risk. In recent years, LIHEAP has helped over six million U.S. families heat or cool their homes, and keep the lights on. In Vermont, about 20,000 families depend on LIHEAP assistance. The elimination of LIHEAP funding would put several thousand local residents at great risk of being without heat during the winter.

SEVCA’s experience in administering Crisis Fuel Assistance over the years has demonstrated that when households run out of fuel, they will go to great lengths to keep warm, including heating their homes with their ovens or dangerous space heaters that increase the risk of fires or carbon monoxide poisoning. Due to our unusually cold winter this season, coupled with rising fuel costs, the number of people seeking Crisis Fuel assistance has increased, and many families have exhausted their LIHEAP (Seasonal Fuel) benefit as well as the maximum available Crisis Fuel assist. The only option for many who can’t afford to heat their homes is the smaller pot of private and community funds SEVCA raises to fill in the gaps—and there’s not nearly enough to help everyone who needs it.

Cutting the only safety net for heating and utilities available to our most vulnerable households, particularly here in Vermont where the weather is so volatile, would be absolutely devastating for our community and the people we serve, said SEVCA’s Family Services Director, Pat Burke. “We need to stand together and advocate to make sure these ill-considered cuts are never enacted.”

“Unless the investment in children is made, all of humanity’s most fundamental long-term problems will remain fundamental long-term problems.”

UNICEF "The State of the Children" (1995)