Updated: Friday, February 23, 2018, 5:25 AM
All presidential budgets are viewed only as a guideline — one that, historically, Congress ignores.
Yet President Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget is even further complicated by a two-year spending deal enacted by Congress on Feb. 9 to avoid a long-term government shutdown. Trump’s budget, released just three days after he signed Congress’ deal, largely fails to align with the budget caps that lawmakers approved. And when lawmakers proceed with appropriating that money in the weeks ahead, they will proceed with November elections in mind.
Still, analysts say, Trump’s budget remains important because it illustrates the administration’s priorities and fiscal views. Presidential budgets can influence discussions, spark debates, and lay the groundwork for future policy making, meaning their content cannot be overlooked.
Which is why, when Trump’s budget was released this month, analysts, proponents and critics immediately waded in, trying to determine which programs are on the chopping block and which are getting plumped.
According to city housing officials, some of the news wasn’t good for Philadelphia.
In general, Trump’s budget aims to expand defense funds, while curtailing social programs. Among his reductions: a $6.8 billion cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, representing a 14.2 percent drop from 2017 funding. If passed, HUD would receive $41.2 billion for 2019.
In tweets this month, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said Trump’s budget represents “a commitment to fiscal restraint,” one focused “on moving more people toward self-sufficiency.”
But what exactly could the budget, if legitimately considered, mean for HUD — and where would it leave Philadelphia, which, in 2017, received more than $400 million from the agency?
Trump’s proposed HUD cuts largely center on the idea that states, cities, and private developers should share more of the affordable-housing cost. At the same time, his budget also maintains funding — and kicks in cash — for a handful of programs. According to budget details, the administration proposed maintaining funds for programs that reduce homelessness, while boosting spending for the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, which provides resources to convert public housing into public-private ownership. Trump’s budget proposal also requests funding for programs that provide employment and social services for tenants, including for the establishment of “EnVision Centers” — a new Carson initiative that seeks to graduate HUD tenants into the private market.
Yet much of the proposed HUD budget focuses, instead, on eliminating programs that the administration claims are “duplicative or have failed to demonstrate effectiveness,” with specific programs pinpointed in particular: the Community Development Block Grant program, the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, the HOME Investment Partnership, and the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program. Those programs are focused, HUD says, on transforming neighborhoods, either through infrastructure development, housing rehabilitation, new housing, and more.
Beyond those cuts, Trump’s budget reduces funding for rental assistance programs — and does not request any resources for the Public Housing Capital Fund, a $1.9 billion program that provides money to develop and modernize public housing developments. His budget also requests that HUD-assisted tenants, excluding the elderly and disabled, shoulder more of their rent and proposes legislative changes that “encourage work” among HUD recipients.
Philadelphia housing officials said they are troubled by Trump’s proposals, especially at a time that rents and home prices are rising locally amid widespread poverty.
“It would have catastrophic consequences,” said Nichole Tillman, a Philadelphia Housing Authority spokeswoman. If passed, “it will result in a huge increase in homelessness, while turning back the clock and reversing the dramatic progress PHA has made in recent years to streamline operations, revitalize neighborhoods, and preserve and expand affordable housing options for the city’s most vulnerable and needy citizens.”
PHA receives 93 percent of its $350 million budget from HUD. The agency projects that Trump’s budget would “result in more than $90 million in annual funding cuts to PHA,” including a potential $80 million reduction to the public housing program alone.
More specifically, Tillman said, the cuts would trickle across individual communities. Under Trump’s budget, the housing authority would have to shut down “a substantial number” of developments — possibly thousands of units — due to insufficient maintenance, utilities, and security funds, Tillman said. PHA would also have to stop work on $300 million of ongoing and future construction and improvement projects. Even further, she said, PHA predicts that it would have to terminate half of its workforce.
HUD funding in Philadelphia extends beyond the housing authority. In addition to PHA funding, Philadelphia received $91.5 million funds from HUD in 2017, which was spread across numerous departments. That allotment funded dozens of initiatives, officials said, including emergency shelter services, home repair funds, foreclosure prevention programs, and the Community Development Block Grant program. Though Trump seeks to eliminate that program specifically, it remains unclear how other local housing programs would be affected.
Anne Fadullon, director of planning development, said in a statement that she was “extremely concerned” by the proposal. “We are hopeful that our partners in the U.S. House and Senate will see fit to turn their backs on such a draconian plan.”