The ongoing state budget crisis means Illinois would be hit especially hard by cuts to social safety-net programs under President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, according to local advocates for the poor, disabled and homeless.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney called the proposal a “taxpayer first budget.”
“This is, I think, the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes,” Mulvaney said Monday. “So often in Washington I think we look only on the recipient side: How does the budget affect those who either receive or don't receive benefits?”
In Illinois, cuts in federal funding would not necessarily be deeper than in other states, but Illinois is in an especially bad position to pick up the slack because the state has added billions of dollars of debt since the state budget impasse started almost two years ago, authorities said.
“To expect that we’re going to suddenly find the funding to meet the need because the federal government walks away from its responsibility to help communities prosper is ... it’s just not going to happen,” said Tom Yates, executive director of Legal Council for Health Justice, a group that tracks federal disability programs, one of the areas targeted for cuts.
Here’s a rundown of some cuts that would land especially hard on Illinois and the Chicago area.
Trump’s budget proposes a 25 percent cut in federal spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the technical name for the food stamp program.
That’s a bigger cut than food banks can fill, said Greater Chicago Food Depository spokesman Jim Conwell.
“For every meal that we are distributing as a non-profit food bank, SNAP is providing about nine meals in our community,” Conwell said.
Based on those figures, the food bank would need to more than triple its output to fill in the gap left by Trump’s proposed cuts.
“The emergency food network of non-profits was not meant to cover that much of an increase in need,” Conwell said.
Even at current funding levels, Conwell said SNAP and the food bank can’t keep up. Based on figures compiled by a national hunger-relief group, he estimates that people in Cook County already miss 118 million meals a year.
Healthcare, housing and homelessness
The budget proposal assumes savings from $880 billion in cuts to Medicaid that are part of the American Health Care Act passed by the House, according to Stephanie Altman, the director of Health Justice at the Shriver Center for Poverty Law.
An analysis from the Urban Institute estimates those cuts would cost Illinois $24 billion in federal Medicaid funds over ten years.
Experts said there would be lots of losers in Illinois, including hospitals across the state, schools that get reimbursed for services to students with special needs and Cook County taxpayers, who have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in paying for services at Stroger Hospital and other county facilities.
Trump’s budget also incorporates cuts to the social safety net that were first outlined in a “skinny budget” the administration released in March.
That includes the elimination of the following programs:
- Community Development Block Grants that help fund homeless services, domestic violence services, Meals on Wheels and other programs -- many of which are already struggling because of gaps left by the state budget impasse.
- Programs that help poor people pay their energy bills, which currently distribute more than $148 million in Illinois.
- Housing vouchers that go to more than 10,700 Illinois households, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The same analysis shows a $107 million cut to public housing in Illinois.
- Funding for legal aid for poor people. Federal funds account for almost half of the budget for the Chicago-area LAF (formerly Legal Assistance Foundation), according to executive director Diana White. “The state of Illinois hasn’t funded any legal aid since 2015,” she said.
Trump’s proposal to cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent is raising alarms from government workers and environmentalists in Chicago and northwest Indiana.
Experts said the proposed cuts would hit two programs especially hard: the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Superfund program, which provides money to clean up hazardous pollution sites.
“It’s already a program that needs more funding not less,” said Kim Ferraro, senior attorney with the Hoosier Environmental Council. “Eliminating even the funding that we have now even further is going to make it even worse.”
Money for the cleanup of superfund sites comes from both the federal government and from the company responsible for the pollution.
Under the president’s proposal, the Superfund program budget would see funding slashed from $1.1 billion to $762 million. The proposed budget cuts could impede ongoing clean-up efforts at the eight superfund sites in northwest Indiana and at the 12 in Chicago.
Meanwhile, the budget proposal would eliminate money for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which aims to clean up the Great Lakes and surrounding ecosystems. Since 2010, nearly $2 billion has been provided by the federal government to clean up areas in and around the Great Lakes.
“The budget cuts are Draconian,” said Nicole Cantello, an attorney with the EPA’s Chicago office and a representative for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, which represents agency workers. “I mean they're not based at all on protecting the American people from the most dangerous environmental threats posed by pollution.”
Shutting down the Great Lakes cleanup effort could mean the loss of 63 jobs out of the Midwest region, Cantello said.
But eliminating funding from the program doesn’t seem like a credible proposal, said Scott Slesinger, Legislative Director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.
“Zeroing out the Great Lakes is not going to happen,” Slesinger said. “There is political support for that program. We expect all the Great Lakes senators, Democrats and Republicans, and most House members, to support funding for that critical program for the largest freshwater system in the world.”