WASHINGTON DC — In the United States, President Donald Trump and his Republican party have proposed a 2018 budget that makes deep cuts to social welfare programmes – food, healthcare and housing – upon which millions of Americans depend.
While it’s not clear whether or not the cuts will pass Congress, even the spectre of losing these programmes has consequences for residents of Washington DC, the nation’s capital. Often the recipients of welfare programmes have jobs, but their wages don’t add up to enough to cover their expenses.
About 44 percent of people relying on food stamps have at least one person working in their family, according to the Department of Agriculture, which administers the subsidy.
Bread for the City, a DC-based non-profit-organisation, is one place where people struggling to get by can get help, serving as a lifeline for the city’s low-income residents. Stephanie Jones is one of millions of Americans who depend on social safety net programmes to help put food on the table. The proposed Trump budget has her worried.
“We’re going to starve,” Jones told TRT World.
Jones was living with her sister until her sister passed away after a battle with cancer. She found herself without a permanent place to stay.
“My situation is I had somewhere to live and then the next thing you know I was getting pushed out. I just pray for better days or a better solution. How that’s going to come about, I really don’t know.”
Budget debates in Congress have been dysfunctional for years, with a hard core pro-austerity faction among the GOP clashing even with members of their own party on spending. A final vote on the 2018 budget will likely not happen for several months, but for Americans like Jones, even the spectre of the cuts is frightening.
Cutting healthcare and food subsidies could have a devastating effect on the lives of people like Jones. And it’s not just adults who will suffer, according to Bread for the City.
“When you harm these programmes, even if you affect a person who might be able-bodied and working age directly, many times there is a child in that household, an elderly person, a disabled person, so you can’t make those kinds of cuts without affecting not only household but the community,” said George Jones, the CEO of Bread for the City. “You destabilise entire communities.”
As part of a larger effort to “balance” the nation’s budget over the next decade, Trump and Republicans plan $193 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programme (SNAP), commonly called food stamps.
Meanwhile, the Republican plan to overhaul the American Healthcare Act (AHCA), or Trumpcare, cuts about $800 billion dollars from the public healthcare programme Medicaid, which was expanded under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
That money would go to boost spending on defence, border security and law enforcement.
Critics charge that even with these deep cuts, imbalances will remain under Trump’s plan, since it overestimates how much the US economy will grow.
"They're expecting a three percent annual growth over the next decade in the US economy. And very few economists agree with that. Most of the economists think that the US can grow at two percent, or maybe two and a quarter percent,” Gary Hufbauer, research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told Reuters. “That makes a big difference. If you have a three percent growth, you can get far more taxes collected.”
Hafbauer said there was reason to be sceptical about whether Congress will make such deep cuts to social programmes, because removing these federal programmes will put the burden on states that can’t handle the strain.
But for Washingtonians like Jones, who worry what will happen to organisations like Bread for the City, the Trump budget casts an ominous shadow over their future. She also had a warning for people who feel secure in their wealth now. Taking away benefits from poor people will only serve to increase their desperation, and desperate people will turn on the rich.
“At some point it’s going to affect the bigger man, the higher man who doesn’t think they are going to get touched,” she said. “If we cut the [social and healthcare] programmes, it’s going to be worse in the street. It’s going to be chaos. It’s going to get to you … Whether they think they won’t be touched or not, they will.”