By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
Missoula nonprofits that work to provide affordable housing and battle food insecurity expressed concern Wednesday over President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts, saying they’ll hurt the city’s most vulnerable citizens, including its seniors and the working poor.
Unveiled this week, the president’s budget looks to slash $3.6 trillion in government spending by targeting cuts to health care, college grants and training programs for teachers and nurses, among dozens of other popular social programs.
The cuts also would also eliminate the decades-old Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership Program, both relied upon by Homeword, a Montana nonprofit based in Missoula that provides everything from financial literacy to affordable housing.
Andrea Davis, Homeword’s executive director, said the organization has developed and renovated nearly 750 units of affordable housing since 1995 in nearly a dozen communities across Montana. Without the assistance of the two federal programs, she said, those units would not exist, including the new Sweetgrass Commons in Missoula, which includes 27 affordable units.
“If we don’t have these resources to go out and provide homes people can afford, those 750 homes would not exist,” Davis said on Wednesday. “There are 1,100 people living in our homes, and that’s just our organization.”
Like other nonprofit leaders across Missoula, Davis is concerned about the president’s austere budget and the cuts it proposes to a number of programs, from child care to local economic development.
Among the cuts, Trump looks to slash $142 million from programs that help low-income and first-generation students attend college. He also has proposed cutting the CHIP program by $6 billion – a program that funds Healthy Montana Kids.
Programs that train public school teachers and nurses would suffer as well, as would disabled veterans, who could lose their living adjustment. Amtrak’s Empire Builder line would be eliminated, and payments to rural counties like Missoula, Ravalli and Sanders, would be slashed by $70 million.
“We don’t have local resources or state-provided funding for affordable housing development,” Davis said. “Without the federal dollars to support this, we would not be able to do what we’re doing.”
Davis said Missoula’s cost of living compounds the potential impacts of Trump’s budget. A local resident earning $10 an hour on a full-time job takes home $1,600 a month after taxes. When child care, rent, food and other essentials are calculated, that worker ends the month in the red.
During his campaign, Trump pledged, “On every issue, our campaign is about making life better for working people.”
“In our opinion, a strong economy is when everyone has a safe, affordable home and the education and tools to make decisions,” said Davis. “Those who are most vulnerable and most in need – those living paycheck to paycheck – are able to contribute better to society when they have the necessary resources. I think the effects of these budget cuts could be very devastating, and that has a huge ripple effect across society.”
Davis isn’t alone in her concerns. While Trump looks to boost military spending and fund a wall along the Mexican border, tens of thousands of hungry Montana residents would see programs that provide essential food assistance dry up.
Gayle Carlson, the CEO for the Montana Food Bank Network based in Missoula, said the president’s budget looks to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $193 billion over 10 years. Otherwise known as SNAP, the program remains the agency’s “most important” anti-hunger program, helping more than 100,000 state residents make ends meet.
“With nearly 140,000 Montanans living in homes that struggle with hunger, it’s vital that we invest in strong hunger-relief and anti-poverty programs,” said Carlson. “Instead, the president’s budget includes drastic cuts to the core of our social safety net.”
Carlson said more than 68 percent of the state’s SNAP participants include families with children, while 29 percent include families with elderly or disabled relatives. Roughly 44 percent of the program’s participants are working families.
Carlson fears the proposed cuts will push low-income Montanans farther down the economic ladder by tearing down the programs that provide a path out of hunger and poverty.
“We in the emergency food system would not be able to fill in the gap created by the cuts proposed in this budget,” Carlson said. “Instead, we can expect to see increases in health-care costs, decreased productivity in the workforce, and worse academic outcomes for the next generation.”
Both Homeword and the Montana Food Bank Network, among other local nonprofits, have reached out to the state’s congressional delegation, urging Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines to oppose the cuts.
“This budget is irresponsible and will hurt rural America and Montana’s economy, while giving tax cuts to the wealthy and wasting billions on an ineffective wall,” Tester said. “We need to reduce wasteful spending and get a handle on our debt, but this budget doesn’t do that – it will hurt Montana farmers and ranchers, cut benefits to America’s veterans, and dismantle public education.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org