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How President Donald Trump's Budget Could Affect The Chicago Area

The proposed budget that President Donald Trump released on Thursday could hit Chicago harder than most cities.

The proposal would eliminate funding for things like help with home-heating bills, grants that support libraries and services for the homeless. 

It’s not clear if those cuts would be disproportionately deeper in Chicago, but the city — and state — are poorly prepared to deal with them, according to Michael Pagano, dean of UIC’s urban-planning school.

Pagano said other big cities may be able to work with state governments to meet the needs those federal programs are supposed to address. 

“I can’t see that happening in this state,” Pagano said. “We just don’t have the wherewithal to do it.”

Illinois has billions of dollars in unpaid bills -- a pile that has grown dramatically while the state has gone without a budget for more than a year and a half. Chicago itself has one of the lowest bond ratings of any major city

“The state’s fiscal crisis -- and the inability of the legislature and the governor to work toward anything isn’t providing any support,” Pagano said. “So, we are at the bottom of the food chain.”

Here are a few programs and services targeted for elimination in Trump’s proposal that have a big impact in the Chicago area:

Homelessness and housing

Community Development Block Grants provide almost $10 million to the city for homeless services -- about 90 percent of which goes directly to nonprofits that provide direct service, according to the city’s budget.

The city pairs that money with funds from another program that supports affordable housing: the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which brings about $19 million to the city budget.

“Yanking those funds is removing a key limb that Chicago was using to deal with its housing issues, which are fairly significant in the wake of the foreclosure crisis,” said Phil Ashton, a UIC professor of urban planning and policy. “Together, the loss of those two programs is a pretty major bomb for the support system for affordable housing here.”

Homeless-service groups are already suffering financially, having seen their state funding interrupted and reduced because of the ongoing Illinois budget impasse.

The block grants pay for other programs too — many of which are also hurting because of the state budget crisis — including domestic violence agencies, services for seniors and services for people with disabilities. 

Help with utility bills

Trump’s proposal would get rid of a program that helps poor people pay their electric and gas bills.

Illinois distributes about $148 million from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. 

“Obviously, in Chicago, you can’t go without heat in the winter,” said David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board.

He estimated that the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program helps 350,000 to 400,000 households a year in Illinois.

In addition, when people end up defaulting on their bills, Kolata said, other customers end up paying for it. 

“Under law, utilities are allowed to pass on the costs of ‘uncollectibles,’” he said. “Those costs are picked up by other consumers.”

Legal aid

The proposed budget would also cut into funding for groups that offer legal help in the Chicago area.

The Legal Services Corporation, a national body that makes grants to local agencies, provides free legal help to the poor. In the Chicago area, the local agency is LAF, formerly the Legal Assistance Foundation.

These are lawyers for civil matters, rather than criminal defense, including domestic violence cases, guardianship of children, foreclosures and disputes with landlords.

“The most basic kinds of things,” said John Levi, a Chicago-based attorney who chairs the LSC board.

Levi said LAF gets 46 percent of its funding from the federal body, which Trump wants to eliminate.

“The funding has been inadequate to begin with,” Levi said. “Many of our grantees are so under-staffed.” He said one report found that almost half of people seeking assistance are turned away.

Other issues

Trump’s budget proposal would eliminate other programs that show up in Chicago. Some include:

  • Grants to Community Development Financial Institutions, which make loans to support small businesses, facilities for non-profits, and affordable housing. 
  • A HUD program called Choice Neighborhoods, which sent $30 million to support development in Woodlawn on the South Side, according to UIC’s Phil Ashton. 
  • The Institute for Museum and Library Services, which has made almost 200 grants to Chicago institutions.

Also, the federal government employs almost 45,000 people in Illinois, making it one of the largest employers in the state 

“Environmental protection is done through people,” said Nicole Cantello, shop steward for the EPA’s regional branch of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing federal workers. “At one time, this region put six people on the ground in Flint. If this budget was enacted, we would not be able to do that.”

Dan Weissmann is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow him at @danweissmann.

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