Hawaii would stand to lose tens of millions of federal dollars annually that support services for the poor, affordable housing, the environment, local arts and media organizations under President Trump’s 2018 budget outline for discretionary spending released Thursday.
All federal funding for the East-West Center, located on the campus of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, would also be eliminated.
The so-called “skinny budget” outlines Trump’s budgetary priorities in broad strokes, giving government officials and members of Congress only a high-level view of what a full line-item budget, expected to be released in late spring, will look like. But the 53-page document provides a good guide to areas that the president wants to cut to pay for large increases in military spending.
The proposed budget, called “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” calls for deep cuts in funding for federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, Health and Human Services, Education, the State Department and Housing and Urban Development.
It also proposes completely eliminating funding for about two dozen agencies including the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps fund Hawaii Public Radio and PBS Hawaii; and the Legal Services Corp., which supports legal services for the poor.
Officials with the Trump administration said Thursday that the budget reflected themes that the president stressed during his campaign, such as reducing government waste and eliminating burdensome or unnecessary regulations.
The president’s proposal unsurprisingly attracted harsh criticism from Democrats, including members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said in a statement that “it’s clear that supporting strong local economies, building vibrant communities, or protecting the most vulnerable” aren’t among the president’s priorities.
“Altogether this budget says one thing — If you’re rich and powerful, you’ll be fine. Everyone else is left out to dry,” said Hirono in vowing to fight against the proposed budget cuts. “Those aren’t Hawaii values, and they certainly aren’t mine.”
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also promised to fight the cuts.
“The President’s budget proposal is simply that — a proposal. It’s not going to happen,” Schatz said in a statement. “If enacted, President Trump’s proposed budget cuts would have a terrible impact on Hawaii, but Congress holds the purse strings, not the President. We will not cede that responsibility, and as a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will fight to make sure we protect federal funding for Hawaii.”
Environmental programs on the chopping block
State programs that rely on federal funding and technical assistance to help enforce environmental regulations, clean up contaminated land sites and monitor water and air quality could be at particular risk under Trump’s budget.
The president has proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency, which provides both financial and technical support to the state Department of Health, by 31 percent, making it one of the hardest-hit agencies. Under the Trump proposal, more than 20 percent of the EPA’s staff would be cut.
Keith Kawaoka, deputy director of environmental health for the state Health Department, said that federal grants also fund more than 100 staff positions within the environmental programs that he oversees, or about one-third of the employees, making the department’s work particularly vulnerable.
“It could be very devastating,” he said.
The Health Department’s environmental branch is responsible for enforcing major environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as overseeing the cleanup of toxic land sites and ensuring that underground fuel storage tanks aren’t contaminating drinking water sources.
Services for the poor
Trump’s budget also includes sharp cuts to housing programs that serve the poor, including the elimination of Community Development Block Grants and the HOME Investment Partnerships program, which are overseen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The CDBG program is “not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results,” according to Trump’s proposed budget.
In the 2016 fiscal year, Hawaii received $12.2 million in CDBG funds and $5.3 million in HOME funding.
Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, said he was particularly concerned about potential cuts to those programs, which he said provide “critical financing tools” for affordable housing.
“If those funds are not available, it will make it more difficult to address the housing shortage here locally,” he said.
The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, which provides free legal services to the poor, is also at risk of losing 25 percent of its funding under Trump’s budget. The nonprofit has 11 offices across the islands and a staff of about 100 people, said Sergio Alcubilla, a spokesman for the agency.
He said the agency helps women navigate their way out of abusive relationships, assists people fighting evictions and assists seniors in applying for Social Security and other public benefits. Alcubilla said the agency receives about 9,000 calls annually on its legal aid hotline, in addition to providing legal representation.
While the president’s budget lays out broad programs or funding areas where he hopes to make cuts, Trump also specifically cites Hawaii’s East-West Center as a program that he wants to cut. The center can “continue to operate without direct federal funds,” according to Trump’s budget.
Richard Vuylsteke, president of the East-West Center, said federal funds make up more than half of the center’s budget. The center received $16.7 million in federal funding in the 2017 fiscal year, out of a total budget of $29 million. He said the federal funding helps the center raise additional sources of funding.
The federal funds help cover the center’s staff of about 150 people, overhead and campus maintenance.
“To cut that out would be a really hard hit on our staffing and our ability to do what we have been doing and at the level we have been doing it over the past decades,” he said.
The East-West Center serves as a research and educational center and seeks to improve relations between the U.S., Asia and the Pacific.
“We have been a force for almost 60 years of not only reminding America that Asia and the Pacific matter, but also doing something about it,” said Vuylsteke.