Ohio would lose funding for heating aid, arts, Lake Erie clean-up under Trump budget
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump's first budget may go nowhere in Congress, but it laid down a gauntlet more direct than the president's bluntest tweets: The federal government will be far smaller, and even the pet projects of the states that sent him to the White House are in peril.
Under the proposal released Thursday morning, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — now a $300 million undertaking to clean up and keep invasive species from the world's largest single source of fresh surface water — would be zeroed out, despite the fact that the project directly benefits the same upper industrial Midwestern states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin — that elevated Trump to the presidency in November.
Trump's budget also would nix the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal-state-local partnership aimed at serving as a regional economic-development agency for 13 Appalachian states, including Ohio, where all but two Appalachian counties voted for Trump.
In fact, some 20 federal agencies would be eliminated entirely, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. Federal funds would disappear for such programs as home heating assistance for the needy and Meals on Wheels, home-delivered meals that are part of a statewide nutrition program that serves more than 100,000 older Ohioans.
"President Trump has talked a lot about being the 'People's President,' yet his budget request literally rips food, housing, environmental protections, jobs and opportunity from countless American families, seniors, people with disabilities and our most vulnerable citizens," said Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township.
But past presidents have tried to make cuts in many of the same programs, only to be thwarted by Congress. For example, President Barack Obama repeatedly proposed a $50 million cut for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Each time Congress restored the money.
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said, "The president's budget blueprint keeps his promise to put America's security first, turning his words directly into policies that restore respect for our citizens' hard-earned tax dollars."
In explaining the proposed 31 percent cut for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Trump administration said the reduction would return oversight responsibility to local and state entities, allowing the federal agency to focus on "its highest national priorities."
Several in Congress, including GOP Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, both of Ohio, condemned the severe cut to Lake Erie cleanup. Portman called the initiative "a successful public-private partnership" that has helped both the economy and the environment. He said a recent study found that the initiative's work generates more than $80 billion in benefits in health, tourism, fishing and recreation.
"I have long championed this program, and I'm committed to continuing to do everything I can to protect and preserve Lake Erie, including preserving this critical program and its funding," the Republican said.
Brown said, "Taking an ax to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will cost Ohio jobs and jeopardize public health by putting the well-being of Lake Erie at risk. ... My colleagues in the Ohio delegation and I will not stand for a budget that zeros out this critical program."
Republican Rep. Dave Joyce of Lake County said, "The idea that the administration would eliminate a program that protects drinking water for more than 30 million people is hard to comprehend."
In August 2014, residents of Toledo, whose water source is Lake Erie, were urged not to drink the water for three days because of algal bloom contamination.
Amy Brennan, the Nature Conservancy's Lake Erie conservation director, said the cuts "will set us back decades. The progress we've made will certainly backslide."
Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said the program "has been a significant pillar in our state as well as the regional effort to restore Lake Erie."
More than 100,000 older Ohioans currently benefit from nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels. The federal government last year provided Ohio with $8.4 million for Meals and Wheels while the Ohio Department of Aging contributed $7 million for senior programs, which included money for Meals on Wheels.
Eliminating Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding would cost WOSU more than $1.4 million, or about 15 percent of its budget, said Tom Rieland, general manager. That would make an impact on "our national and local programming, on our extensive educational services to pre-school caregivers and K-12 teachers, on everything we do. The funding loss would put many rural public stations across America that depend on federal support for 40-50 percent out of business.
"The entire public broadcast noncommercial system is being put at great risk for a savings of about $1.35 per citizen each year."
Tom Hodson, director and general manager of the WOUB Center for Public Media, said the Ohio University station, which serves 55 counties in three states, stands to lose a quarter of its funding.
WCBE quickly put out a fund-raising appeal after Trump's budget became public. "Losing that money would cascade into some rather radical changes at WCBE, heralded by the whittling away of our local programs," said general manager Dan Mushalko.
In 2016, the National Endowment for the Arts provided about $2.01 million to Ohio arts groups. Of that, $983,000 went to the Ohio Arts Council for its grant programs.
Council spokesman Justin Nigro said the federal money represents about 7 percent of the money it receives for grants. The rest, nearly $13 million, comes from the state budget, and Nigro said Gov. John Kasich has proposed keeping funding at that level for the next two years.
Included in the slightly more than $1 million the NEA awarded directly to various arts groups was $50,000 for the Wexner Center for the Arts; $50,000 for the McCoy Center for the Arts in New Albany; and $40,000 to the Greater Columbus Arts Council.
Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, justified such cuts.
"I put myself in the shoes of that steelworker in Ohio, the coal-mining family in West Virginia, the mother of two in Detroit, and I'm saying, 'OK, I have to go ask these folks for money and I have to tell them where I'm going to spend it.' Can I really go to those folks, look them in the eye and say, 'Look, I want to take money from you and I want to give it to the Corporation of Public Broadcasting'?
"That is a really hard sell."
The Appalachian Regional Commission, established by Congress in 1965, is designed to invest in the region's business development, worker education and training and infrastructure. Between October 2015 and January of this year, the commission supported 41 projects in Ohio involving nearly $9.7 million.
Tom Johnson, director of the Perry County Community Improvement Corporation and chairman of Hocking College's board of trustees, said commission funding is helping regional efforts to shift workers from the old, coal-based economy into new jobs. Recent grant funding has included $2 million to Ohio University and $1.4 million to Hocking College for community-based workforce-development programs to help workers affected by closures of coal mines and coal-fired power plants, he said.
"The Appalachian Regional Commission is one of the most important resources that supports community development in Appalachian Ohio," he said. "It's critical funding for communities in the bottom quartile of income levels."
The winners are few: Only Defense, Homeland Security, Veterans and the National Nuclear Security Agency would grow under Trump's fledgling budget. The Social Security Administration, with a 0.2 percent growth level, also would inch upward.