West Virginia’s U.S. Senators voiced concern Tuesday over the White House’s budget proposal, which revolves around heavy cuts to social safety net programs relied upon by thousands around the state.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., offered a range of adjectives describing the budget, such as “demoralizing,” “alarming,” “ridiculous” and others in a conference call with reporters. He said the budget calls for added defense spending on the backs of the country’s most vulnerable people.
“To utterly gut programs Americans have not only come to depend on but, basically, are needed for any type of a life, doesn’t make sense,” he said. “You’ve got to find a balance. How they can call this the ‘Foundation for American Greatness’ makes it pretty difficult to accept.”
The cuts announced in the “A New Foundation for American Greatness” budget plan range from slashing $190 billion over 10 years from Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program funding, which nearly 334,000 West Virginians receive aid from, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, along with cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, aid for low-income families to pay utility bills in the winter, after-school programs in poor communities and other programs.
While more measured, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she has reservations with the bill, as well. She said cuts to programs such as the Appalachian Regional Commission, Community Development Block Grants, Federal Emergency Management Agency state grants, the Economic Development Authority, National Endowment for the Arts and other programs are concerning to her, especially in light of the budget’s tilt toward military spending.
“Many of the things that he [President Donald Trump] has discontinued, in my view, have a high priority, as well, and add just as much to the quality of life, the safety and security of our families in West Virginia as a military budget,” she said.
However, Capito pointed out that an executive branch’s budget proposal is just a wish list, and it’s ultimately up to Congress to write the budget. She added that there are upsides to the budget, as well, such as prioritizing bringing broadband access to under-served areas, changing mandates for paid parental leave from work and bringing back funding for combating illicit drug use.
When asked about cuts to safety social net programs, such as Women, Infants and Children [WIC], which provides federal grants to states to help needy pregnant and nursing women and their families, Capito said Congress is likely to institute some changes.
“I think you’re going to see ... in some of these areas, it will be quite different,” she said. “The WIC program will be one of those. Also, the after-school program is another one. I’ve visited a lot of those sites and, for some families, that’s the only option for children as they’re done with school, waiting for their parents to come home.”
Two of West Virginia’s Republican representatives, Alex Mooney and David McKinley, did not respond to numerous interview requests for this report. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., through his staff, declined an interview request.
Jenkins’ communications director, Rebecca Neal, did issue a statement critical of the budget proposal.
“While I appreciate the president’s aim to cut wasteful spending, this budget goes too far in critical areas for West Virginia,” the statement for Jenkins reads. “The proposed cuts to our safety net programs, including Medicaid and SNAP, would hurt too many of our state’s most vulnerable citizens, and I cannot support this budget proposal.”
Jenkins’ statement goes on to condemn the $119 million cut to the Appalachian Regional Commission.
In his briefing on the proposal, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney called it a “taxpayer-first budget,” written through the eyes of a taxpayer, not a program recipient. He went on to share a general philosophy behind it.
“We are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” he said. “We’re going to measure compassion and success by the number of people we get off of those programs and get back in charge of their own lives. We’re not going to measure our success by how much money we spend, but by how many we actually help.”
In an internal memo on the budget obtained by Politico, as a talking point on welfare reform, officials wrote that the budget “strives to replace dependency with the dignity of work through welfare reform efforts,” such as the $21 billion cut to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program over 10 years.
Also, in a reversal from its preliminary budget, released in March, Tuesday’s proposal includes funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Earlier this month, Manchin sent a letter to Trump urging him not to cut the office. Other state elected officials issued statements to the same effect.
The budget also proposes other cuts, including a $72 billion cut to the Social Security disability insurance funding, a $5.8 billion cut over 10 years to the Children’s Health Insurance Program and more cuts to Meals on Wheels, which provides meals to the elderly.
Other programs, for helping students pay off their loans, scientific research, economic development and environmental services, also are on the chopping block.
Reach Jake Zuckerman at email@example.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.