By John Lynds
Last week, President Donald Trump released his proposed budget and the deep cuts that help support some of East Boston’s most vulnerable residents have shaken heads of neighborhood agencies that depend on federal funding.
Programs like APAC’s Fuel Assistance, Project Bread’s after school and summer meal program and the numerous programs that the East Boston Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) runs for low income residents and seniors are all threatened by Trump’s budget.
Trump plans to eliminate the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. At NOAH, Executive Director Phil Giffee was aghast at Trump’s decision to cut a successful national program that allows communities like Eastie to use federal funds to create affordable housing opportunities, job creation, and homeownership for low income residents. The Trump Administration said last week the CDBG program “is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results”.
The elimination of the CDBG program would cut off $16 million in federal funding to Massachusetts Community Action Agencies like NOAH. Services provided to 625,142 low-income individuals across the state would be in jeopardy, including 77,940 people with disabilities, 126,519 seniors, and 187,922 children.
“He (Trump) calls it a ‘skinny budget,’ but in reality it is a ‘Starvation Budget’,” said Giffee. “This is a complete devastation of proven housing and community programs such as elimination of our 28 year old Senior Homeowner Services Program which has served thousands of lower-income East Boston elder homeowners. It eliminates first time homebuyer programs, foreclosure assistance, housing placement for displaced families and fire victims. It removes funds which help build affordable housing for lower income persons and families. There is no excuse for this. He claims to support working families but the only working people he knows are the ones who clean the dirt from his golf spikes at super-rich courses. The destruction of all these programs to transfer the funds to build more warships is a direct hit to the American people, too many of whom had faith he would help them.’
Also on the chopping black are after school meals. Trump’s budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, said point blank last week during a press conference that, “There’s no evidence that these programs benefit kids in school. There’s no evidence that these programs help kids do better in school. When we looked at these metrics, we decided to cut any programs that weren’t directly helping kids in school, helping them to do better in school, and that’s why these after-school programs are getting axed.”
Project Bread’s Executive Director Ellen Parker disagrees. Parker and Project Bread have shown evidence in the past that low-income children rely on school meals for up to 55 percent of their daily calories. School lunch and breakfast programs as well as after school lunch programs could potentially protect tens of thousands of low-income children from food insecurity and boost students’ health and capacity to learn. Numerous studies have shown that children who are poorly fed do not learn as well in school and are more prone toward obesity and associated health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
“East Boston students and families will lose if our President chooses to cut school meals,” said Parker. “There are so many reasons that students need school meals – to support active minds and to keep them on track all day long. Families also benefit because school and summer meals give the family food budget a boost, so there’s a little more to go around. Project Bread stands up for East Boston students – and we’ll be speaking up to Congress and the President – as many times as we have to – to turn around the shortsighted idea that we can balance the budget by cutting school meals.”
One of the biggest shocks that came out of Trump’s budget last week were the cuts to programs that help seniors like Meals of Wheels and Fuel Assistance.
According to reports, the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that helps heat nine million homes of the disabled, elderly and families with young children nationally. The program has helped 23 million people this year across the country–including hundreds of low income and elderly residents here in Eastie. The elimination of LIHEAP will cost the Commonwealth roughly $149 million and leave nearly 200,000 Massachusetts families out in the cold.
Action for Boston Community Development President and CEO John Drew, who oversees East Boston APAC’s Fuel Assistance program, said if this vitally crucial program is cut it could potentially “wipe ABCD off the map”.
“We are still taking applications for fuel assistance and plan to be giving assistance to seniors and low-income residents in East Boston and Boston well into May,” said Drew. “We at ABCD think this cut is irresponsible. With increases in rent combined with a lack of income and Section 8 vouchers some seniors could be facing homelessness, hunger, or health issues because they will have to make the tough decision whether or not to pay for heat instead of paying for food, or medicine or rent.”
However, Drew is optimistic that Congress will see Trump’s budget as unusually cruel.
“This budget is like throwing a bomb into a cellar,” said Drew. “We are not going to take these proposed cuts laying down and we will fight for these important programs for our most vulnerable neighbors. I’m hopeful Congress will not be so cavalier with the lives of seniors and low-income residents.”