The Trump administration released its preliminary proposed 2018 budget yesterday, which included draconian cuts to a wide array of non-defense discretionary spending. Among other proposals, the budget would slash of one-third of Environmental Protection Agency’s discretionary budget, totally eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts, and end the grants that currently fund food assistance to the elderly via Meals on Wheels.
Not long after the proposal’s release, I also started to see headlines and tweets about the Trump administration’s assault on the “school meal program” and on “hungry kids.” So I pored over the budget proposal last night and just want to clarify what I think is going on. (And, by the way, this clarification isn’t intended in any way to deflect widespread criticism of Trump’s budget plan, which I personally believe is amply deserved.)
As I understand it, because the Trump proposal is only looking (right now) at discretionary spending, it has no effect on the mandatory funding of federal school meal programs, including the lunch and breakfast program. Similarly, it also doesn’t speak to funding for SNAP, the federal food assistance program. (Forty-four percent of SNAP recipients are children.) And while the Trump administration would like to slash the USDA’s discretionary budget, which includes funding for the WIC program (nutrition assistance for women, infants and young children), the White House apparently remains committed to funding WIC for now.
So why are we hearing about cuts to “school food” on social media? I believe these headlines are referring to Trump’s desire to eliminate the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, which provides school food assistance to impoverished children outside the United States. The program’s worthy goal, according to the USDA, is to “reduce hunger and improve literacy and primary education, especially for girls.”
And what about that exchange yesterday between a CNN reporter and White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, in which Mulvaney defended the proposed elimination of after-school programs that “help feed kids who don’t get fed at home, so they do better at school?” Mulvaney was not, I believe, speaking about federal programs like the After School Snack program or the Child and Adult Care Food Program. I believe he was instead referring to the proposed elimination of the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBGP), by which states fund a wide variety of local projects and programs, including Meals on Wheels and after-school educational programs at which children may be offered meals and snacks.
All of the above is based on my own layperson’s analysis of the budget proposal – and some late night Google searching – so if I have any of this wrong, please feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment below.
One thing is clear, however. The Trump administration is only just getting started, and it’s already shown a disturbing disregard for people at home and abroad who are in need of food assistance. My early fears about this administration’s potential impact on child nutrition programs, shared here just two days after the election, now seem more than justified.
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