WASHINGTON Voters from small town and rural America who were key to electing President Donald Trump stand to lose the most in his budget plan to shrink the size and generosity of the federal government.
Advocates for rural residents said the president's spending blueprint adversely impacts a range of programs helpful to less populated regions, including those to prevent homelessness, help the poor pay heating bills, provide community loans, fund training for nurses, assist farmers and preserve clean waterways.
These and other stark domestic program cuts to government agencies are needed to pay for the president's plan to spend untold billions of dollars expanding the military and securing the nation's border with Mexico to curtail illegal immigration, said Mick Mulvaney, White House budget director.
Congressman Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, decried the president's budget for sacrificing rural assistance programs to shift spending to the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.
"The president's budget makes it clear he never intended to keep his promises to rural Iowa and America," said Loebsack. "This budget slashes investments in programs that help Iowa's small towns and rural communities."
Loebsack and other critics noted the president's plan is subject to change by Congress, and that they will fight the cuts to programs for improving the economic lot of rural residents and communities.
West Virginia, which voted overwhelmingly for Trump, discovered his budget proposes eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission, an agency that helps distraught communities in that state get back on their feet.
Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia issued a statement saying the commission is "essential to redeveloping economically distressed regions of West Virginia, especially the coal communities that have been devastated by years of regulatory overreach."
John Newton, a director for the American Farm Bureau, said farmers and ranchers are already struggling to make a living and "now is not the time to make even deeper cuts" to such services as statistics on crop prices and the number of local U.S. Department of Agriculture offices.
"Every farmer in the U.S. goes to those USDA offices," said Newton. "They file required reports on planting there and get help with applying for grants and doing conservation."
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a statement Trump's proposal to reduce federal agriculture programs by $4.7 billion "does not work" and cannot be justified.
Sarah Mickelson, public policy director for the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said eliminating millions of dollars for projects related to affordable housing and homelessness will hurt rural communities as well as urban areas. In small towns, she added, many people live in substandard homes or camps.
The National Resources Defense Council pointed out that the President's budget eliminates a fund that gives rural governments and nonprofits money to clean up drinking water systems and an improve sewage disposal to avoid disasters such as happened in Flint, Michigan. .
"I don't think voters wanted this," Lara Bryan, a water quality expert for the environmental group, wrote in a blog post.
The Trump administration's $6.2 billion or 13 percent cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development would be the biggest hit that agency has taken since President Ronald Reagan slashed it in the early 1980s, said the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Those cuts "ushered in a new age of homelessness with a dramatic increase in the number of people sleeping on the streets, in cars, and in shelters," the group's president, Diane Yentel, said in a statement.
The USDA cuts could also mean the loss of staff that helps property owners keep homes in rural regions rentable, she said. Preserving low-income rentals is critical, Yentel added, because there hasn't been an increase in funding new homes in rural areas since 2012.
Maggie Elehwany, vice president for government affairs at the National Rural Health Association, said her group is concerned about Trump's proposed $403 million cut to the National Institutes of Health program to train nurses and other medical workers, many of whom work in rural America.
She said the budget also includes unspecified cuts to a range of rural health programs that fund research, telehealth, geriatric programs and hospital grants at time when there are 80 fewer rural hospitals since 2010.
Mulvaney, the White House budget director and a conservative former GOP congressman from South Carolina, said the budget represents a president "who is beholden to nobody but the voters" and is following through on his promise to "drain the swamp" in Washington of wasteful, duplicative programs "that simply don't work."
The president's budget deals only with the government's discretionary spending and does not include the more costly entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They make up the largest portion of the $4 trillion annual federal budget.
Contact CNHI Washington reporter Kery Murakami at firstname.lastname@example.org.