Trump Spending Priorities Would Fray Social Safety Net Programs

Published in the Woonsocket Call on March 16, 2019

Last Monday, President Donald Trump released his proposed FY 2020 budget request to Congress. Lawmakers, who rejected many of these budgetary spending requests in the president’s previous two submitted budgets proposals, consider his latest to be “dead-on-arrival.”

But, Trump’s $4.7 trillion fiscal blueprint, outlined in the 150-page “Budget for a Better America,” gives us a clear picture of his spending priorities and policies he seeks to implement through executive orders and regulator changes.

Trump’s FY 2020 spending plan proposes funding increases for combating the opioid epidemic, improving veteran’s health care, fixing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure ($200 billion increase), even giving the Pentagon a 5 percent increase in spending exceeding what the military asked for. White House senior advisor Ivanka Trump successfully pushed for the FY 2020 budget to include $750 million to establish a paid parental leave program and a $1 billion one-time fund to provide childcare to under served populations.

Trump’s budget proposal makes a commitment of $291 million to eliminate the spread of HIV within a decade, it slashes the National Institutes of Health’s funding by 12 percent, and the budget for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention by about 10 percent.

Trump does not back away from his controversial stance of building a wall, putting in an additional $8.6 trillion for the construction of a U.S. Mexico border barrier. Congress had earlier opposed his demand for $5.7 billion for the construction project.

Trump Budget Proposal Puts Senior’s Earned Benefits at Risk

In 2016, Presidential candidate Trump had pledged not to cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, but he does in his submitted FY 2020 budget proposal.

Trump calls for a 5 percent cut in non-defense federal agencies, including a whopping $ 1.5 trillion in Medicaid over 10 years. The budget plan instead allocates $1.2 trillion to create “market-based health care grants,” (a.k.a block grants) for states that would start in 2021. This gives states the power to set their own rules for this program.

Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would be eliminated by Trump’s FY 2020 budget proposal by ending ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions and causing millions of people to join the ranks of the uninsured. About 15 million more Americans have joined Medicaid since the ACA expansion was enacted.

Trump’s budget proposal also cuts Medicare by $845 billion over the next decade by cutting payments to hospitals and physicians, rooting out fraud and abuse, and by lowering prescription drug costs.

Meanwhile, the Social Security Disability Insurance program takes a huge budgetary cut of $25 billion and the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) operating budget is slashed by 1 percent, at a time when the agency is working hard to ratchet up its customer service provide to SSA beneficiaries.

Trump’s budget proposal would cut $220 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), popularly referred to as the food stamp program. The program currently serves 39 million people. Under this budget, beneficiaries would be required to be employed for 20 hours a week to be eligible for assistance and replacing the EBT-debit card used to purchase groceries with the delivery of a “Harvest Box” filled with non-perishable foods like cereal and pasta, canned goods and surplus dairy products.

Housing and Urban Development’s 202 housing program for seniors and people with disabilities takes a $36 million hit, says long-time aging advocate Bill Benson, principal of Washington, D.C.-based Health Benefits ABC, in the March 15th issue of Aging Policy and Public Health News.

According to Benson, several Older Americans Act programs including the Family Caregiver Support program would be cut in Trump’s budget proposal. The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program would be cut by $1 million. Elder Justice Programs would also be cut under the President’s budget including a $2 million cut to the Elder Justice Initiative at Administration for Community Living.

” Cruelest of all [budgetary cuts] is the proposed out-right elimination of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) which is the only source of sustained federal funding to states for Adult Protective Services (APS),” says Benson. Some 37 states use SSBGs to support their APS programs. SSBG is also used by states for a number of other services benefiting older adults including home-delivered meals and case management.

Shortchanging Seniors

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) warns that Trump’s budget proposal shortchanges seniors. “In combination with 2017’s tax cuts for the wealthy and the administration’s failure to allow Medicare to negotiate with Big Pharma, the Trump budget shows that his administration is not plugged into the realities of being elderly in America,” he says.

Richtman says that Trump’s budget plan also proposes to eliminate federal grants that help pay for programs under the Older Americans Act, such as Meals on Wheels and home heating assistance for the elderly poor.”

According to Richtman, the 116th Congress gives seniors hope with introduced legislation that would boost Social Security benefits and expand Medicare coverage to include dental, hearing and vision services, changes that an overwhelming majority of Americans support. He calls on Congress to “quickly reject this callous budget proposal — and take decisive action to enhance the well-being of older Americans.

Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, sees Trump’s newly released budget proposal as very troubling, too. “It sharply cuts funding in the part of the budget that invests in future economic growth through education and training, scientific research, infrastructure, and the like,” he says.

“It reverses progress in making affordable health care available to people who don’t have employer coverage or can’t afford private coverage. It cuts basic assistance substantially for families, children, and elderly and disabled people who are in need and struggle to get by. And, it doubles down on policies that take away health care, food, and housing when adults aren’t able to meet a work requirement,” says Greenstein.
“Despite bemoaning deficits, it calls for making the costly 2017 tax cuts — which largely benefit those who already have high incomes and wealth — permanent,” he adds.

Richtman believes that Trump’s 2020 spending proposal serves as a warning of what the administration would do if it were not for the firewall known as the Democratic-led House of Representatives. “These draconian ideas – though rejected by voters in the 2018 mid-terms – remain in the conservative political bloodstream, requiring continued advocacy on the part of seniors and their champions in Congress,” he says.

The release of Trump’s FY 2020 budget program begins the Democratic party’s efforts to retake the White House and Senate in the 2020 presidential election, just over 598 days away. By making major cuts in Social Security and Medicare and turning Medicaid into a state block grant program, Trump is giving Democratic challengers in the 2020 presidential election fodder to create politically-charged themes for ads to turn senior voters against him for seeking cuts in these popular domestic programs.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, healthcare, and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

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Great Futures Start at Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket

Published in Pawtucket Times, May 24, 2013

Founded over 113 years ago, more than 100,000 youngsters have come through the doors of the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket (BGCP). The lives of these young children, most coming from blue-collar families, were shaped by the opportunity of daily contact with adult mentors. They also developed friendship and camaraderie with their young peers, all this giving them life lessons that would ultimately propel them into successful careers.

Learning Valuable Life Lessons.

Daniel Brito, 42, executive director of Blackstone Valley Youth & Family Collaborative, Inc., formerly from Pawtucket’s Woodlawn neighborhood, now living with his wife, Jane, a graphic designer, and 11-year-old daughter, Alivia in East Providence, remembers his younger days at the Pawtucket Club.

For over a decade, Brito, a nonprofit executive, oversees an agency that provides residential and community based supports to adolescent males ages 17-21. Currently his staff of 25 employees provide services to 20 clients, this funded by the State of Rhode Island, Department of Children Youth & Families. The young man has also worked in the fields of business development, project management, construction, customer service, social work, and even co-owned three Dunkin Donuts in Maryland.

In 1977, Brito, age 7, began his membership at the Pawtucket Club, including attending summer camp, with John his eleven year old brother. Brito, states his father, a merchant marine and mother, a worker at Monet Jewelry, enrolled their young boys at the BGCP to give them an opportunity to participate in supervised activities rather than just letting them play at the park or on the street.

Over the years, Brito’s involvement with the Club would evolve into becoming an employee for six years. He was named “Youth of The Year”, in 1988 and continues to assist as a judge in the annual youth of the year competition.

According to Brito, being a BGCP member for 15 years gave him the life skills to succeed in life. Personal attention from staff enhanced his self-esteem, even their constant encouragement to attend college along with their “real life advice” were key factors that pushed him into attending college, where he ultimately was awarded a Bachelor of Art Degree in Elementary Education from Rhode Island College. He is the first in his family to attend college.

Team sport activities, overseen by the late Mike Pappas, along with young Jim Hoyt and Peter Lavellee, even had an impact on his future management style, that is “the benefit of team work far out weighs the benefit of working as an individual.”

Being a BGCP Trustee and member of its Governance Committee and as well as a Board member of Cape Verdean American Community Development Agency, allows him to give back to the current BGCP members and to his cultural community.

Pushing Yourself, “Never Say Can’t”

As Brito, Kristin Lyons, 43, a licensed clinical social work with 20 years working in the Domestic Violence field, who serves as Executive Director of the Providence-based Women’s Center of Rhode Island, became involved with the BGCP at age 6, living at that time in Pawtucket’s Darlington neighborhood.

Lyons and her sister, Susan, would join the BGCP to learn the art of swimming at its East Avenue site. She would ultimately swim on its swim team, receiving awards and recognition, beginning at elementary school ending with her graduation at Tolman High School.

Being on the swim team taught the young child to understand the importance of being part of the team. “Obviously you improved yourself individually but you worked for the team,” she said. More over, she vividly remembers Hoyt, teaching her to never use the word “can’t.” This taught Lyons to push herself as far as she could and not give up. “A very good life lesson,” she says, noting that “You have to think you can do it if you want to succeed with your goals and work toward your dreams.”

“Being part of a community, being a member of the swim team family, and having adult role models around were important for me reaching my goals,” said Lyons. Her parents would both volunteer at swimming meets, her father being a judge and timer and her mother also timing, working concessions and helping with score keeping.

Lyons claims the BGCP taught her to work hard to achieve her goals, one being attending college. She would graduate from Northeastern University with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice in 1993 and from Salem State College with a Master of Social Work in 2000. She was a member of the 2006 Leadership Rhode Island Class.

Now, serving as BGCP’s second vice president, after her service as a trustee and board member for six years, Lyons works tirelessly to ensure that the nonprofit group can meet the needs of future generations. .

A Life-Time Commitment

Seventy-three-year old, Philip A. Ayoub, owner of Pawtucket-based Ayoub Engineering, has very long ties with the Club, that is over 67 years.

The respected civil engineer, also a Pawtucket Hall of Fame and BGCP Hall of Fame inductee, became a BGCP member at age 6, along with his two brothers Naseem, age 7, and Edward, age 5. He remembered at the time he became a member in 1946, there was no emphasis on education, only vocational trades, such as printing and woodworking, and sports activities. The late Mike Pappas taught him to have respect for authority, to take responsibility for his actions, along with giving him an opportunity to participate in “honest [sports] competition.” He learned how to interact with “kids he did not know,” who came from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

Heeding his parents’ advice that “to have a good life you need an education,” Ayoub would receive a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Rhode Island.

While his many awards he received at the BGCP are packed up, he has proudly hung in his office pictures of him being recognized as the Boy of the Year in 1953, and his BGCP Service to Youth Awards, from serving 20 plus years on the Board including being its President for two consecutive, three year terms.

Says Ayoub, “For me, my interest in the Club when I reached a level of professional success was to give something back. The more involved I became with the Club, the more inspired I became seeing young children developing into mature, responsible citizens.”

Thoughts from the Top Exec

Jim Hoyt, the BGCP’s long-time chief executive officer, sees a need for facility improvements to handle a growing membership. Over the last decade, membership has increased from 3,000 to 4,500. Not surprising, daily attendance has jumped, now hovering around 300 children, ages 5-18, coming to the Club daily. Ultimately, with the conclusion of a planned expansion, “we’ll have 500 to 600 kids attending each day after-school.”

Youth join the BGCP for help with homework and tutoring and for assurance from a staff of caring and nurturing youth development professionals. They participate in year-round recreation and sports activities. They enjoy a hot, nutritious meal at dinnertime. They take classes in art, theatre and dance. They learn to use computers. They receive career guidance and advice. They find friendship. They gain self-respect. In essence, they realize their full potential.

The Club is all about providing opportunities to kids, Hoyt says. “We want them to graduate from high school, be good people and contributing members of society, and to live healthy lives,” he remarks, noting that “Everything we do is aimed at these three outcomes.”

Hoyt says, over time, the BGCP has become a highly regarded, award-winning youth development organization with thriving, innovative enrichment and recreational programs and an ever-increasing daily enrollment.

BGCP is moving in the right direction, says Hoyt. “Our board is incredible! They are passionate, engaged, and outstanding examples of what a board should be. Close to half are former members of the Club,” he says.

And, Hoyt notes that his board is 150% behind the current expansion project, donating more than a half a million dollars to this project. “Their timely generosity helped us meet a $1 million challenge grant from The Champlin Foundations,” he says.

Hoyt is pleased that BGCP’s Capital Campaign is on target. “We are exactly where we hoped to be at this point – but we definitely have some work ahead of us as we look to break ground next year. We have raised close to $5.5 Million, with an ultimate goal of $8 Million: $7 Million will be for the Capital Project – with another $1 Million for program endowment to support the increased operations,” he remarks.

The planned expansion will build a Club that will allow the Pawtucket nonprofit to serve more kids, and to serve them better. A newly designed and enhanced Clubhouse will provide a new teen center and gym for teen members, centralized visual and performing arts spaces, better functionality in our pre-teen area which will reduce overcrowding in education, technology, at mealtime, and beyond – and allow for safer, more controlled access to the building.

Once the build out is completed, Hoyt expects to see the daily attendance to jump to around 600 members, with a primary goal of attracting more at-risk teens by doubling the space dedicated to them. Expanded daily service hours for each age group, combined with expanded space, will enhance programming for education and career preparation, the arts, and healthy lifestyles.

Hoyt expects to break ground in March of 2014. The summer will be spent renovating the interior of the existing building so that programming and services can begin again by September. The addition of the new Teen Center will be completed over the course of the Fall, with a ribbon cutting for the new facility in January of 2015.

Today, generations of BGCP members have joined, come and gone. But, positive experiences combined with being provided with the right tools to succeed, have given them a leg up to become successful in their professional careers, contributing to the betterment of society.

For membership and programming information visit http://www.bgcpawt.org or to learn more about the BGCP’s Building Better Futures Capital and Endowment Campaign, call the Club at 401-722-8840 to set up a tour.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.