By Daniel Sheehan
AFOP Executive Director
“There’s a certain philosophy wrapped up in the budget and that is — we are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs.We’re not going to measure our success by how much money we spend, but by how many people we actually help.”
— White House OMB Director Mick Mulvaney
Welcome to budget season in Washington, D.C., when the projections for economic growth are rosy and inflation assumptions are flat.
This week it is President Donald J. Trump’s turn to recommend to Congress a spending and revenue plan that stresses his administration’s fiscal priorities. In doing so, he will communicate to the American people his vision for our nation’s future. Sadly, migrant and seasonal farmworker advancement will have no part in that future.
Before digging into the president’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, I would like to revisit our old friend Fiscal Year 2017. On May 5, 2017, a full seven months after the target date for enactment, the president signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 as Public Law 115-31, bringing the unnecessarily delayed fiscal year 2017 appropriations process to an end. I say “unnecessarily delayed” because the final spending measure could have easily been passed late last year, but the new administration requested the process be put on hold. I am very happy to report that Congress level funded the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP) for fiscal year 2017, making clear its support for the program at current spending levels. Those funds will become available to NFJP grantees July 1, 2017 and run through June 30, 2018. Congratulations to all NFJP farmworker-training organizations for their unwavering commitment to serving migrant and seasonal farmworkers and families, and for their continued outstanding successes in doing so.
Turning to fiscal year 2018 spending, President Trump sent to Congress today a budget plan that recommends deep cuts in non-defense discretionary spending to offset a massive increase in defense and homeland security funding. As a part of that plan, he would reduce Labor Department funding significantly, including the zeroing out of the NFJP line item. This is an unfortunate development, but not wholly unexpected given the administration’s recent efforts to eliminate NFJP funding in fiscal year 2017.
As you would expect, the anti-poverty community is vociferously opposed to the president’s plan. According to the Coalition on Human Needs:
The Trump Budget is … the most draconian budget in modern history. In so many ways, this budget breaks promises and deceives about its true impact. It disinvests in America. The basic living standards that everyone needs – enough food, health care, and housing – are shredded, not strengthened. The budget would massively transfer money that should be invested in all our people to a handful of millionaires and profitable corporations, through multi-trillions in tax cuts that would average $50,000 each for millionaires. (Read full statement here.)
In addition, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has blasted the president’s recommendations, calling them a path to a new Gilded Age, a term derived from Mark Twain’s novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, which satirized an era of serious social problems masked by a thin gold gilding of the very wealthiest. As CBPP puts it:
President Trump’s new budget should lay to rest any belief that he’s looking out for the millions of people the economy has left behind. He proposes steep cuts in basic health, nutrition, and other important assistance for tens of millions of struggling, low- and modest-income Americans, even as he calls for extremely large tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest people and profitable corporations.
This disturbing budget would turn the United States into a coarser nation, making life harder for most of those struggling to get by but more luxurious for those at the very top. Most Americans do not seek a new Gilded Age. And the budget is sharply at odds with what the president told voters he would do during his campaign. With this budget, the President betrays many voters who placed their trust in him.In fact, this stands as the most radical, Robin-Hood-in-reverse budget that any modern president has ever proposed. (Read full statement here.)
As an association, we have our work cut out for us. Yes, members are diligent about educating decision-makers about the continuing importance of, need for, and tremendous success of the federal farmworker program. And, yes, I have made sure that the administration and lawmakers have the necessary information about the program to preserve it going forward. And, yes, we continue to engage every way we can to ensure this vital mission – giving farmworkers a hand-up, not a hand-out, to a more stable and family-sustaining career – continues. That is our goal. We will not flinch in pursuit of it.