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Trump budget tries to cut social programs, but plan itself is DOA

WASHINGTON – President Trump's budget proposal may be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill, but the document shows that he still harbors dreams of gutting a host of social programs that serve tens of thousands of people in metro areas such as Buffalo.

Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and several other programs face cuts in Trump's $4.4 trillion spending proposal for fiscal 2019, which Trump unveiled Monday. Efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, local medical researchers and the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station appear to be among the Western New York winners in the spending plan.

Congress routinely dismisses budget proposals from presidents of both parties, and Trump's spending plan is less relevant than most simply because Congress already drew up the bare outlines of a budget for 2019 in a bipartisan compromise last week.

"As a practical matter, this isn't going anywhere," said Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat who sits on the House Budget Committee.

Still, the congressional appropriations committees – which set aside the money the government spends – will no doubt at least look at Trump's priorities as they craft their legislation.

"While there are cuts to important programs locally such as LIHEAP ... ultimately the House Appropriations Committee will determine the overall funding for these programs," said Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican. "As I have in years past, I will be a strong advocate for the needs of Western New York to make sure our priorities are represented during the Appropriations process.”

Other local lawmakers had even harsher words for Trump's budget.

“It is utterly astounding that just six weeks after slashing taxes on the wealthy and biggest corporations, creating a huge deficit, the president asks older Americans and middle-class Americans to make up the difference by slashing Medicare and Medicaid," said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat.

Higgins said the spending plan seemed designed to hurt cities such as Buffalo.

"This is an anti-urban agenda," he said. "It's as if the Trump administration said: 'These people don't vote for us, so let's clobber them.' "

Meantime, Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican, fretted over the fact that even with all its proposed cuts, Trump's spending plan would increase the federal deficit over time.

"The president’s budget proposal shows Washington is not serious about solving our nation’s debt crisis," Reed said.

Here's a look at the budget cuts that Trump proposes that would most likely affect the largest numbers of Western New Yorkers:

Medicaid: Continuing his efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Trump wants to end the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which extended the federal-state health program into the middle class.

The Cuomo administration estimated last year that ending the Medicaid expansion would result in 1.9 million New York residents losing their insurance. And more recent statistics, from January, show that there were 79,874 people in Erie County alone on the expanded Medicaid program that Trump would like to eliminate.

Even poorer state residents on Medicaid could see changes if Trump got his way. That's because his budget also revives the proposal to turn the program into a block grant, which would cut the amount of money the state gets from the federal government for it over time.

Medicare: Trump proposes a 7 percent cut in funding for the program that provides health care to America's seniors, saying that money will come out of overpayments to medical providers. Insurers and medical professionals are sure to object, though, and argue that patients would obviously somehow suffer if spending were to be cut so deeply.

Any changes would be especially noticeable in places such as Erie County that have an unusually high population of elderly residents. Federal statistics show that 192,843 Erie County residents were on Medicare as of last November.

Food stamps: Trump proposes a drastic reform of this program, which served 150,599 Erie County residents as of December. Funding would be cut 27 percent. And instead of getting their food at grocery stores, food stamp recipients would start getting boxes of healthy food delivered at their homes by the federal government.

LIHEAP: Once again this year, the president suggests eliminating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which served 69,127 in Erie County as of December. But Congress refused to agree to end the program last year, and lawmakers have long resisted repeated attempts by presidents of both parties to cut the program.

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Funded at $300 million this year, Trump would cut that to $30 million. Lawmakers from the Great Lakes states fought off a Trump proposal to eliminate the Great Lakes cleanup program last year.

Community Development Block Grant: Once again, Trump proposes eliminating a program that Buffalo uses for neighborhood improvements across the city. Congress has trimmed funding for the program over the years, but it still brings about $21 million annually to the Buffalo metro area.

TIGER grants: While proposing a new $200 billion federal infrastructure program, Trump proposes eliminating the Obama-era Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. Buffalo utilized a grant from that program as part of its plan to restore vehicle traffic to Main Street downtown, and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is currently applying for a TIGER grant to help fund an extension of Metro Rail to the DL&W Terminal.

The war on opioids: Trump wants to add another $13 billion to federal efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, which claimed an estimated 316 lives in Erie County last year. That's far in excess of the $6 billion increase Congress approved as part of its budget bill last week, and it's unclear whether Congress will want to add another boost in funding.

Medical research funding: Funding for the National Institutes of Health would remain essentially flat under both the Trump budget and the spending plan passed by Congress last week, likely sparing researchers at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus from deep cuts like those Trump proposed last year.

Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station: Defense spending would increase about 13 percent under the spending plan, and at least a little of that money would filter down to the local military base. Collins noted that the Trump spending plan calls for $14 million to be spent on a new fitness center at the base. The project is so expensive because it involves tearing down two old buildings, conducting an environmental impact study and then building a new facility.

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