What Would Trump's Budget Mean For Pittsburgh And Pennsylvania?

Mar 16, 2017

President Donald Trump's budget plan, released Thursday morning, clarifies his spending priorities and calls for cuts in several departments, which local and state leaders said will negatively impact residents.  

The proposal calls for at least a 20 percent cut to the departments of agriculture, labor and the state department. 

Trump's plan emphasizes military and border-security spending, as well as school choice programs. 

In Pittsburgh, affordable housing projects would be nearly impossible to fund under the proposal.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, budget would be reduced by 13.2 percent under the 2018 outline. It includes the elimination of Community Development Block Grant Programs, known as CDBGs, which are the primary funding source for affordable housing projects in Pittsburgh.

The modern-styled Penn Mathilda affordable housing apartment complex located on Penn Avenue has 39 units, half of which are reserved for veterans.
Credit Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

In addition to housing projects, CDBGs support meals on wheels programs, redevelopment efforts, facility improvements and neighborhood organizations. Pittsburgh received more than $12 million in 2016 from HUD.

Larry Swanson, executive director of ACTION Housing, said CBDGs are indispensable resources in the Pittsburgh region, which is already lacking 17,241 affordable units.

“The proposals effectively would stop our ability to produce affordable housing through the city and county,” Swanson said. “Those are the vital resources that enable us to leverage the funds that we get to develop projects.”

Swanson referred to two projects in Squirrel Hill and Forest Hills that received about $800,000 in funds from CDBGs and its housing-only dedicated program, HOME. He said without the federal money, the project wouldn’t have been possible.

Last fall, 85 affordable units opened in Larimer, made possible by funding through a Choice Neighborhood grant, distributed by HUD.

Swanson said through a state-administered federal tax credit program, Pennsylvania puts forth about $300 million a year toward affordable housing projects. About two-thirds is provided by private developers and the remaining third comes from nonprofits. The projects, Swanson said, are more than just places for people to live.

“Most of that $300 million is actually housing construction,” Swanson said. “Which creates jobs and provides an economic return.”

Kevin Acklin, chief of staff to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, echoed Swanson's concerns and said Trump’s budget cuts would be counter to the city’s “neighborhood-driven and equitable community development” agenda. 

“Staffing and programming at the URA and the Housing Authority is largely based upon CDBG funding and federal tax credit allocations, and removing these tools from our arsenal would undermine everything the Peduto administration is trying to accomplish," he said in a statement. 

Finding an alternative to CBDGs and other programs is difficult, Swanson said.  The city’s Affordable Housing Task Force was created in December 2016, but has struggled with how to fund it.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said he’s still trying to determine the impact Trump’s proposed budget cuts will have on the commonwealth at large, but called the massive cuts, “unacceptable.” Wolf said thousands of Pennsylvanians rely on the programs that Trump is calling to eliminate, such as education and employment programs. 

“Workers rely on job training programs to help them get back on their feet," Wolf said. "Students across Pennsylvania with disabilities get access to the education they need to succeed through federal funding."

Gabriella Gonzalez, senior social scientists with RAND Corporation, said Allegheny County’s manufacturing, farming and technology sectors could see slow growth without funding.

Gonzalez said while Allegheny County’s unemployment rate aligns with the national average, the surrounding counties are dealing with joblessness or underemployment. 

“If we don’t have the right type of labor pool or talent pool to fill the jobs of the future in the region—who can be skilled up,” Gonzalez said. “Then there really needs to be a concerted effort to think more systematically and holistically about those types of education and training needs.”

A few dozen veterans, health experts and administrative staff listen to VA Pittsburgh director Karin McGraw at a veterans' town hall meeting on Wednesday, March 15, 2017.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Included in Trump’s Commerce Department cuts were Manufacturing Extension Partnerships, or MEPs, which are public-private partnerships that help small and medium-sized manufacturers run their businesses. In 2016, MEPs served 184 companies in the region.

“That year, they reported that 958 jobs were created or retained,” Gonzalez said. “Firms in the region really do support a good number of jobs.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs was one of three departments to receive an increase in funding, by about 6 percent. The department reports that there are more than 85,000 veterans living in Allegheny County. 

Wolf said he also worried about negative effects from cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which Trump wants to slash by 31 percent.

“If that means 30 percent fewer people monitoring our water and our air, that puts a lot more responsibility back on the states to do that and that’s something that’s just a fundamental right and in Pennsylvania it’s a constitutional right," he said "So, I’m concerned." 

Trump’s plan calls for cutting nearly 20 percent of EPS jobs and eliminating more than 50 programs. The agency is responsible for enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress. The Washington Post reported the budget would setback the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, which now gets $73 million.

Wolf also said he is concerned about the replacement of the Affordable Care Act.

“Ordinary Pennsylvanians are going to have their lives disrupted by a lot of these cuts," he said. "We have to wait to see. I want to be responsive and not alarmist, but I’m not sure how the lives of Pennsylvanians are not going to be negatively affected by what’s going on in Washington.”

Wolf said he is asking Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to, “carefully review the devastating cuts in this proposal and help stop them.”

The U.S. Congress will draft a budget this spring and a formal budget has to be agreed on by October.