Trump budget again targets regional water cleanup programs — like Chesapeake Bay

FILE – In this May 31, 2002 file photo, the sun sets over the Mackinac Bridge and the Mackinac Straits as seen from Lake Huron. The bridge is the dividing line between Lake Michigan to the west and Lake Huron to the east. President Donald Trump again is trying to drastically reduce or eliminate federal support for cleanups of some iconic U.S. waterways. His proposed budget would slash Environmental Protection Agency funding for Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay restoration programs by 90 percent. It would kills all EPA spending on programs supporting other waters including San Francisco Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and Puget Sound. The administration made a similar attempt last year but Congress refused to go along. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File) TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — For a second consecutive year, President Donald Trump is trying to drastically reduce or eliminate federal support of cleanups for iconic U.S. waterways including the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

Trump’s proposed 2019 budget for the Environmental Protection Agency released Monday would cut funding by 90 percent for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — an Obama-era plan for dealing with pervasive pollution in the world’s biggest surface freshwater system — and a similar program for Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary.

A budget summary provided by the White House says the spending plan “enhances” basin-wide monitoring of “significant watersheds,” including the freshwater lakes, to aid decision-making on issues such as algal blooms and invasive species management, while “recognizing that the primary responsibility for local ecosystem restoration rests with states and local groups.”

It would remove all EPA funding of cleanup programs for the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound and South Florida, including the Everglades and Keys. The administration’s EPA spending plan said the agency would “encourage state, tribal and local entities to continue to make progress” in those places.

The administration sought to zero out spending on the regional water initiatives in its first budget a year ago, describing them as “primarily local efforts” and contending state and local governments were capable of paying for them.

The Department of Agriculture’s budget aims to cut the average premium subsidy for crop insurance from 62 percent to 48 percent. The federal program pays a subsidy to reduce premiums charged to producers by insurers, and currently has no annual limits. Subsidies would be limited to farmers with $500,000 or less in adjusted gross income.

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But Congress decided otherwise, illustrating the popularity of the cleanups among lawmakers of both parties and voters who want progress on long-standing problems such as toxic algae that fouls beaches, invasive species that starve out native fish, and industrial toxins embedded in river bottoms.

It also requests billions for the military and for fighting the opioid epidemic, including $625 million for states responding to the crisis, while scaling back spending on food stamps, Medicaid — the health program for the poor, disabled and elderly — as well as crop insurance costs and low-income heating assistance.

The Great Lakes program is the largest, taking in about $300 million annually since it was established in 2010. Trump’s budget would give it $30 million. Chesapeake Bay, which is getting nearly $73 million this year, would receive $7.3 million. The other programs receive significantly less federal funding.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, denounced the proposed Great Lakes cuts as “outrageous.” Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican, pledged to seek full funding of the initiative, which he said boosts the economy and environment of an eight-state region extending from New York to Minnesota.

“Why the Trump administration would continue to try to slash funding for the world’s most important freshwater resource is beyond my comprehension,” said Mike Shriberg, regional director for the National Wildlife Federation.

That spending plan does not include funds for the home-energy program for low-income households. Michigan is receiving roughly $156 million in federal funding, aid that is generally used to pay for home heating credits, weatherization and crisis intervention.

The Chesapeake Bay program, which dates to 1983, has accelerated in recent years in the watershed’s six states and Washington, D.C., with adoption of pollution reduction targets. Trump’s budget would provide money for water quality monitoring but none for cleanup work, advocates said.

“A cut of this magnitude would severely damage Bay restoration efforts, just at a time when we are seeing significant progress,” said William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Michigan’s priority list included federal funding for a new shipping channel at the Soo Locks, high-speed broadband Internet service, and work on customs plazas for the new Detroit River span to Canada and at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron.

Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.

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Trump’s budget also calls again for eliminating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program — which helped more than 440,000 Michiganders pay home energy bills last year — and the Community Development Block Grant program, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program helps pay for home shelters, transportation services, housing rehabilitation and more. In 2017, Michigan communities received more than $111 million in CDBG funds, including $31 million for Detroit.

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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s budgetary wish list for 2019 includes gutting programs that benefit the Great Lakes, altering and cutting the food stamp program, and eliminating numerous grant programs that have channeled federal money to Northeast Ohio.

Trump on Monday clearly tried to steer interest toward an infrastructure proposal he argues could help attract about $1.5 trillion in new investments in roads, bridges and other projects by using $200 billion over 10 years to leverage state, local and private funding. What’s unclear, however, is whether Congress would be willing to put up such funding or whether states and local governments have the matching money needed to pay for the remainder of the program.

Trump’s budget would cut more than $48 billion from dozens of discretionary programs, but would add several billion dollars to fight opioid abuse. It repeats many suggested reductions from last year that were rejected by Congress, which has the final word on federal spending.

Meanwhile, the proposal also argues for investing $1.5 billion in school choice programs under U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, with states applying for funding for scholarships that would allow students from low-income families to transfer to private schools and local school boards requesting funding to expand “open enrollment” systems. About $500 million or more would also go to start new charter schools.

For example, the new budget proposal suggests cutting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative cleanup program to $30 million from its current $298 million level. Trump sought a similar cut last year, but Congress continued funding at the higher level.

But it wasn’t immediately clear what benefit the infrastructure proposal could mean to key Michigan projects, such as a sought-after navigation lock at Sault Ste. Marie. Shippers have been seeking a new super-size lock for decades to protect against any potential shutdown of the one aging lock there now that is large enough to handle the biggest ships carrying iron ore and other freight through the Great Lakes.

“Today feels like Groundhog Day as it relates to the Great Lakes funding,” said a statement that Bainbridge Township Republican Rep. Dave Joyce released Monday. “No matter the administration – Republican or Democrat – it seems none of them understand how important fresh water and the Great Lakes are to many Americans. Once again, we will gear up in a bipartisan manner, to save the Great Lakes funding.”

Niles area Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who serves with Joyce on the House of Representatives committee that allots federal money, called Trump’s budget proposal “a non-starter.”

Like the budget proposal made about this time last year, Trump is looking to nearly eliminate funding for a $300-million program that helps restore Great Lakes water quality by improving fish habitat, cleaning up polluted waterways and protecting wetlands. Trump’s earlier efforts to defund it have so far been rejected, as the program enjoys the support of Republicans as well as Democrats in the Upper Midwest.

“The only function the President’s budget proposal serves is to remind us how completely out of whack his priorities are for the American people,” said a statement from Ryan.

Trump’s budget also again looks to slash other programs considered important to Detroit and other cities in Michigan, including the Community Development Block Grant fund. But it’s unlikely he will be able to push through such draconian reductions — especially given that he was unable to do so in his first year in office with members of his own Republican Party in control of both chambers of Congress..

Trump’s budget document also suggests eliminating a program that funds conservation efforts at 49 National Heritage Areas around the country, including the Ohio and Erie Canalway. Last year, Trump  wanted to cut it from $19 million to $809,000 – but Congress upheld its previous funding level.

The budget also suggests reforms to some HUD rental assistance programs —including increasing tenants’ share of rent they must pay from 30% of their income to 35%, which could save the government about $4.3 billion. The Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated last year that about 145,000 low-income households in Michigan used federal rental assistance.

The budget proposes elimination of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which assists low-income households with their heating and cooling energy costs. The program got more than $3 billion last year. Language in the budget says “the program is no longer a necessity as States have adopted their own policies to protect constituents against energy concerns.”

It would eliminate that Department of Transportation’s TIGER grant program, which has awarded more than $5 billion in transportation money over the years, including grants that aided construction of Cleveland Metroparks bicycle and pedestrian trails in central Cleveland, and helped the city of Akron complete its downtown promenade.

Trump’s budget also proposes chopping the Justice Department’s COPS Hiring program, which has provided millions of dollars over the years to help Northeast Ohio police departments hire more officers. It suggests eliminating $96 million from the program and reallocating the money to “higher priority Federal law enforcement programs that lead efforts to address gangs, violent crime, and the opioid epidemic in communities across the Nation.”

There was at least one substantially brighter spot in the budget for Northeast Ohio, however, with the proposal for NASA’s Glenn Research Center. The center would see its biggest budget hike in seven years.Glenn’s budget would grow from a current $650 million to $712 million in 2019, then drop to $640 million in 2020.

It also includes around $20 million to perform “major repairs & alterations” on the Carl B. Stokes courthouse in Cleveland, and $7.4 million build a new automated machine gun range to expand training opportunities at the Ohio National Guard’s Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center.

“As our men and women in uniform confront the harsh realities we face in the world and take the steps they need to confront them, it is important they have the training, equipment, and facilities they need,” said a statement from Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman. “I am pleased this funding has been included in the president’s budget to help our National Guards units training at Camp Ravenna.”

Fighting opioid abuse: The Trump budget proposal suggests spending an extra $5 billion to fight opioid abuse over the next five years, in addition to the $3 billion this year and $3 billion next year that Congress approved last week. The budget specifies that money would be spent on preventing abuse, law enforcement, providing treatment for addicts and preventing overuse of opioids as prescribed painkillers.

Changing food stamps: Trump wants what his budget calls “a bold new approach to nutrition assistance that combines traditional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits with 100-percent American grown foods provided directly to households.”

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His budget documents say this is how it would work: Households receiving $90 or more per month in SNAP benefits would get a portion of their benefits in the form of a Department of Agriculture package, with items such as milk, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit, vegetables, and meat, poultry or fish. The remainder of their benefit would go on their electronic SNAP debit cards for use at grocers.

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It was not immediately clear how the food packages would be distributed, or by whom.

Trump also wants to continue efforts to move people from SNAP to work so they can rely on their own paychecks for food, his administration says.

Altogether, cuts and reforms would alter the program in ways “designed to improve nutrition and target benefits to those who need them while ensuring careful stewardship of taxpayers’ money,” the budget says. That includes proposals to eliminate the minimum food stamp benefit for people who otherwise might qualify for less, and capping the maximum benefit at current levels for families of six or more rather than having it rise through a cost-of-living formula.

Total saving: $17 billion next year, and $213.5 billion worth of SNAP cuts over a decade.

Housing and Urban Development: Trump wants to cut HUD spending by $8.8 billion, an 18.3 percent cut from the 2017 level. This includes a decrease of 11.2 percent for rental assistance, or federal housing aid that helps families pay rent in either privately owned rental units or apartment complexes owned by public housing agencies like the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. The budget calls for reforms to “place these programs on a more fiscally sound path while encouraging work and self-sufficiency for tenants.”

This includes requiring able-bodied tenants to pay a greater share of their rent. They now generally pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward rent. The administration would build on HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s plans to offer more training and education to help public housing tenants become more self-sufficient.

The president’s budget includes no funding of the Public Housing Capital Fund, which helps local and regional agencies pay for repairs and upgrades of their housing developments. This “should be a responsibility more fully shared with state and local governments,” the budget documents say.

Trump also wants to eliminate the Community Development Block Grant program, which cities such as Cleveland use for neighborhood improvements. “The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on CDBG since its inception in 1974, but evaluations have been unable to demonstrate program results,” a budget document says. Furthermore, state and local governments are better able to respond to local community issues, his budget rationale says.

Trump is just the latest president to propose CDBG cuts or reforms. Congress consistently says otherwise and has the final say.

Infrastructure: Trump wants to spend $200 billion over the next 10 years to stimulate what the White House says will be $1.5 trillion in spending for highways, bridges, waterway improvements, sewers and broadband. Most of the money for the infrastructure plan, however, would come from state, local and private sources.

The $200 billion would not have a single dedicated source but, rather, come from savings from other parts of the budget. Trump Monday morning signaled on Twitter that at least part of it could come from cuts to foreign aid. He and some congressional Republicans have said before that the United States should back off some of the aid it provides to the Middle East.

The Trump plan would also streamline the federal permitting process, which now can take up to a decade for major projects and could be cut to two years, the White House said. Environmental groups say they worry this would lead to overlooking concerns about environmental degradation during and after construction.

Ohio relies heavily on federal aid for highway construction. And a major source of federal money for that comes from the gasoline tax that goes into the Highway Trust Fund. The 18.4 cents-a-gallon tax has not been raised since 1993, and Trump’s budget doesn’t ask for a hike this year, either. But White House officials said they are not ruling out other approaches, and the $200 billion offer in Monday’s budget is a starting point for negotiations with Congress.

State and local governments would likely resist efforts to limit federal funding. The most common funding breakdown for Ohio Department of Transportation costruction projects is 80 percent federal, 20 percent state and local funds, the department said. For example, a resurfacing project on U.S. 6 in Geauga County had a total cost of $930,000. Of that, $744,000 came from Washington and $186,000 from the state, said ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning.

ODOT’s 2017 budget was $3.15 billion. About $1.3 billion of that came from federal highway revenue.

Grace Gallucci, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, a transportation and environmental planning body, said infrastructure investments are long overdue. She commended Trump  for beginning “a serious dialogue.” But she said a shift in funding and a reliance on public-private partnerships might not work everywhere, especially where maintenance or rehabilitation of existing roads and bridges is needed.

“In order to modernize our infrastructure and bring all of our assets into a state of good repair, we need stronger support from our federal government,” Gallucci said. “We are hopeful that this plan will start to address some of our most pressing needs, but remain cautious that it will fix our crumbling roads, bridges and transit infrastructure.”

This document provides for a strong national defense, promoting a healthy American economy and curbing wasteful Washington spending. It also supports the President’s innovative #infrastructure and opioid initiatives.

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