By Seth Daniel
Standing at a podium at the front of the planning office in the Chelsea Collaborative last Friday, March 17, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey held up a copy of the ‘America First’ federal budget presented from President Donald Trump and said it was a sledgehammer to the heart of Massachusetts.
President Trump released his initial federal budget last week, dubbing it ‘America First: A Blueprint for How to Make American Great Again’ The budget features prominent increases to the Defense Department, Homeland Security and seed money to being designing and building the wall on the southern border. It also features tax cuts for the highest earners, a staple of similar Republican economic plans from the past where tax cuts are believed to trickle down through the economy.
“Donald Trump released a very dangerous federal budget which contradicts every single core value of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He goes right to the heart of this belief we have in our state that we can have capitalism, but capitalism with a conscience,” said Markey. “We understand there has to be a real commitment to ensuring we provide an economy where there are jobs for everyone…Even with that, there are programs that have to be in place to create a ladder of opportunity and protection for every single family. That’s where the Trump budget goes off track. If you kicked the Trump budget in the heart, it would break your toe. It is harshest on the poor, harshest on the innovation of programs at the heart of the growth of our country – and it is so while seeking to provide tax breaks for the wealthiest among us.”
Markey outlined several of the cuts that he found to be troubling, including cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 13 percent, cuts to Health and Human Services by 16 percent, an 18 percent cut in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget and the Department of Transportation by 13 percent, the Labor Department by 20 percent and the the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities being eliminated
“What it really is, is put millionaires and billionaires first and everyone else in our country last,” he said. “That is what the Trump budget is. In program after program, what we see is dramatic cuts in programs we see. Home heating aid for people in Chelsea and all across the state of Massachusetts is eliminated. We are here on freezing days in Massachusetts where the poor need help with their heating and that program will now be eliminated under the Trump budget.”
He said there will be a strategy for trying to block such cuts to programs like the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which is a critical program for the poor in Chelsea and administered by CAPIC on Crescent Avenue.
“In the Senate we have 48 members and we have the ability to find a relatively small number of Republicans in order to block any of these cuts, and so that’s going to be what we try to do,” he said. “We have to say on low income heating assistance to the Republicans from all across the country who represent the coldest states, we need your help to preserve that program.”
Other programs that could be affected in Chelsea by the new federal budget are:
- Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)
- Meals on Wheels
- Low Income Legal Representation
- Federal money for home weatherization
Markey was challenged by reporters on some of the cuts he detailed, including the Meals on Wheels program, which gets only a very small percentage of its funding from the federal government. Most of its funding comes from federal programs that weren’t cut, or from private foundations and donations. It was estimated that the Meals on Wheels cut was only around 3 or 4 percent.
“The foundation money each one of these programs each of these programs depends upon is what these programs depend on,” he responded. “When you talk about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or Meals on Wheels, and other programs, that’s the predictable money and the guaranteed money to make sure they can hire personnel and staff to make sure that year after year they can continue the program.”
Markey also talked about concerns to cuts in education, particularly cutting Title 1 traditional public school funding in order to re-route that money to Charter Schools and Voucher programs.
Chelsea Supt. Mary Bourque said it is still uncertain what the Trump budget will mean for Chelsea’s $11 million in federal grants. However, she said there is concern that government might have lost its moral compass.
“It’s shifting money from Title 1 and our ability to serve low-income students,” she said. “We are now taking steps backwards to shift that money to privatization. We believe firmly that we are in an era of dismantling public education…Other things being cut are Title 2A, which is our professional development. That’s been eliminated and 21st Century Learning Communities have been eliminated. Other programs eliminated in this budget are Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnerships, Impact Days and all these things. We have the skinny budget now, so we don’t know exactly how this will affect us. We know we get approximately $11 million in federal grants and so in these budget times, missing $1 is a hit to a child in our school. Our budgets are so tight at the City level, state level and now the federal level. What I would ask is have we started to lose our moral compass?”
Markey vowed to fight against the budget as best as he can, noting that it targets Massachusetts industries and the poor the hardest.
“What Trump has done is take a sledgehammer to the center of the Massachusetts business plan and take a meat cleaver to the programs that help the poorest in our state,” he said. “I and our delegation is going to fight every single day to stop this Trump budget from ever seeing the light of day. We are going to use every single tool we have to block this from ever becoming the law of our country because we in Massachusetts have to be the leaders. We have to show that millionaires and billionaires cannot be first and everyone else last in the budget of our country. The budget is all the hopes and all the dreams for every person in our country.”