Trump budget plan could wallop local social services

As reported by Jesse Collins, Wicked Local Bedford:

President Donald Trump’s federal budget proposal that was announced on March 16 has social service providers reeling. The budget calls for a $54 billion increase in military and defense spending, while cutting or eliminating scores of social service programs.

“As presented, the presidential budget would be devastating to the social safety net across the country and of course Massachusetts,” said Joe Diamond, executive director of the Massachusetts Association for Community Action.

Community Teamwork is a Lowell-based non-profit social service provider that supports programs for more than 50,000 people in more than 60 towns in the MetroWest region, including Bedford. CEO Karen Frederick said that 68 percent of their $80 million budget comes from federal funding, and some of the programs are entirely reliant on federal funding.

“We are the provider of the federal fuel assistance program for 19 communities in Middlesex County, including Bedford, which provides families with financial assistance when it comes to heating their homes during the winter,” Frederick said. “That would be something that would be eliminated entirely under the president’s plan, and we serve 10,000 people in the area through that program.”

With the successful election of both President Trump and a conservative-dominated congress, budgets for social programs and services were expected to be reduced. However, the nature of the cuts has put a lot of the social service programs provided by different agencies in jeopardy.

“When you are going to put more money into military spending, you know that money is going to come from somewhere,” Frederick said. “We were expecting there to be cuts to some of our programs, however the severity of the cuts seem shortsighted.”

Frederick believes that the cuts in certain programs will eventually end up costing the state and federal government more money, as individuals marginalized by the budget cuts would become more reliant on state and federal programs to support them.

“A lot of what we do is prevention work. For example 40 percent of the people we serve in the fuel assistance program are elderly. If they can’t afford to stay in their homes because they can’t heat it, the other options become more expensive, like moving them into assisted living,” Frederick said. “It is much more expensive to deal with homelessness than it is to pay for a small amount of weatherization and lending assistance.”

Other programs that receive a lot of federal funding include the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides assistance for food and nutrition products for low-income families and the Head Start program, which provides families with childcare and preschool education. The elimination of these programs could reduce the productivity coming from the workforce, further hurting the local economy.

“If you cut a program like Head Start, that allows families to work and if they can’t work they can’t pay taxes and they can’t move forward in their lives,” Frederick said. “We also have job training programs, working with the five local vocational schools to train people for jobs and help them get placed in jobs. Those are funded through the Community Service Block Grant and the Community Development Block Grant and those are in danger of being eliminated. These are people who are being trained to get jobs and then go out in the workforce and pay taxes. The elimination of something like that is very shortsighted.”

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