Funding for federal programs that aid South Carolina’s education system and the state’s poor face deep cuts in President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, leaving advocates and some state lawmakers warning of dire consequences if Congress advances the plan.
South Carolina, with a 16.6 percent poverty rate, is heavily dependent on safety-net programs. U.S. census data place South Carolina as the 10th poorest state, and it’s dead last in education, according to the U.S. News and World Reports.
Over a 10-year period, Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget proposal would reduce the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $193 billion, or 25 percent; the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program by $21 billion, or 13 percent; and the Earned Income Tax Credit by $40 billion.
Roughly 20 percent of South Carolina’s population is enrolled in Medicaid, which nationwide faces a $610 billion cut over 10 years in the budget proposal.
Cuts like these could be a disaster for South Carolinians, said Sue Berkowitz, director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which advocates for low-income South Carolina residents.
“Cold of heart would be an understatement. I don't understand how people who are governing can disregard so many people in need,” Berkowitz said.
Berkowitz was especially critical of Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, a former 5th District representative of South Carolina, for calling Trump’s budget a “taxpayer first budget.”
“People on SNAP, people on Medicaid are taxpayers,” Berkowitz said. “It's also insulting for there to be assumptions made that people who are getting these benefits are not working or not trying to work. And for people who are on SNAP and people who are working, what more do we want from them?”
Heritage Action, a conservative advocacy group, disagreed and said Trump’s plan would put taxpayers first by rallying Republicans around reform for expensive safety-net programs. Although the group had concerns with the administration’s failure to address Medicare or Social Security reform in the budget, the group praised the boost in military funding.
“It is the type of document the president promised on the campaign trail, including some serious, structural reforms to our nation’s entitlement system. Unfortunately, the failure to address Social Security and Medicare will make it difficult to truly rein in our nation’s ever growing debt,” said Michael A. Needham, chief executive officer of Heritage Action, in a press release.
A president’s budget proposal is just that – a proposal. It serves to reflect an administration’s spending priorities, but Congress drafts its own measures through multiple committees over many weeks. Indeed, the final budget passed by Congress, should lawmakers agree on a spending plan this year, will likely look dramatically different than Trump’s request.
Nevertheless, South Carolina Democrats, including Rep. Jim Clyburn and Columbia Mayor Stephen Benjamin criticized the budget for these and other cuts to programs, such as the Community Development Block grant program that funds housing and infrastructure projects.
“If passed, it would not only undercut our cities and shortchange our infrastructure, but also would cripple the American economy at a time when we should be investing in creating high-paying jobs and supporting the innovation we need to compete with nations across the globe,” Benjamin said.
Ryan Brown, the chief communications officer for the South Carolina Department of Education said several Every Student Succeeds Act programs would be eliminated, Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Grants would be cut by $166 million, nearly 15 percent, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants would be cut by $112 million.
There would be an extra $1 billion for Title 1 school choice programs and public school portability, which Education Secretary Betsy DeVos supports.
DeVos defended the 13 percent cut in the U.S. Education Department funding during a House Appropriations hearing on Wednesday, saying some “tough” decisions had to be made so parents and students can have more control.
Brown said the additional money toward school choice is welcome, but can be difficult to implement properly while adequately funding programs already in place.
Large school districts would benefit from school choice programs but rural communities in South Carolina with fewer options may have a more difficult time adjusting, he said.
“These are steep cuts to key federal education programs that are used to increase student access to effective educators, prepare students for jobs and careers through career and technology programs, and support at risk students,” Brown said. “While we believe that increased access and funding for school choice important, it cannot come at the expense of other federal programs.”