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Report: Trump budget will slash the EPA, State Department, Amtrak, Meals on Wheels grants

USAID food aid
US Agency for International Development (USAID) Deputy Administrator Donald K. Steinberg, left, reviews US food aid in Djibouti, on July 8, 2011. Food aid from USAID is reportedly targeted in the budget outline.
US Department of State
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

President Trump's first budget blueprint would make deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department, and slash smaller but well-known programs like Amtrak and community grants, while increasing defense spending and immigration enforcement, according to a report by the New York Times's Glenn Thrush and Coral Davenport.

This matches reporting from the end of February, when news of deep cuts to EPA and State and a major increase in defense spending was first leaked. At that time, budget director Mick Mulvaney publicly stated there would be a $54 billion defense hike and hinted that major cuts to State and to foreign aid spending were forthcoming. The defense hike is really more like $18 billion when compared with Obama’s last budget, which has raised the ire of defense hawks such as Sen. John McCain who are demanding still more funding.

But Thrush and Davenport and other reporters are now offering more details about the budget outline to come, including some deep cuts:

  • The EPA's budget would fall from $8.2 billion down to $5.7 billion under Trump’s plan, a 31 percent cut that would put funding at "its lowest level in 40 years, adjusted for inflation.” This is reportedly against the requests of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — no fan of the agency before taking office — who requested a $7 billion budget.
  • The State Department would be cut between 28 percent and 31 percent. Originally Trump wanted cuts of 37 percent but faced resistance from Congress and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
  • The Food for Peace Program, a State Department program that distributes food assistance in emergencies such as famine and natural disaster, and does some non-emergency food relief, will face “drastic reductions.” It currently gets between $1 billion and $2 billion a year.
  • The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will be cut 97 percent, according to CNN. Other cuts will hit the EPA’s environmental justice program (which helps communities affected by pollution) and Global Change Research, a George H.W. Bush–started interagency program conducting research on “human-induced and natural processes of global change.”
  • Other areas that would be cut, according to Thrush and Davenport, include Amtrak, public education, the Essential Air Service program keeping small rural airports in operation, and the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which is housed in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and funds Meals on Wheels and community infrastructure programs.

The $3 billion in annual foreign aid funding for Israel will be left untouched, according to Thrush and Davenport, despite the other huge cuts to foreign aid.

The budget outline, which will be released on Thursday at 7 am, will according to Reuters not include any details on “mandatory” spending programs like Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, and focus exclusively on “discretionary” spending such as on federal agencies, defense, and other assorted programs. Thrush and Davenport write that it’s “more of a broad political statement than a detailed plan for spending and taxation.”

That leaves a lot of uncertainty remaining, and Congress will undoubtedly fight specific proposals hard. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has said the State Department cuts are “dead on arrival.” The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is hugely popular among representatives from neighboring states, and CNN’s Stephen Collinson reports that Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is already fighting to keep it fully funded. The Community Development Block Grant has historically enjoyed wide, bipartisan support.

But successful or not, Trump’s attempt to slash State, EPA, and various non-defense discretionary funding while boosting defense is a clear statement of his administration’s priorities, and an indication of what fights on the budget Trump will attempt to wage in coming years.

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