Tuesday, April 25, 2017

For defenseless Americans, Trump budget is blueprint for disaster

Members of Congress get 20,000 testimonials to legal aid this week. Here's mine.

Congress hasn't delivered a budget on time since 2003. As it goes back in session, more than half the 2017 fiscal year is gone and government could run out of money this week. Next year's spending plan isn't shaping up well either.

President Trump's "America First" budget blueprint would raise spending authority for defense by 10 percent. Finding an extra $54 billion would a lot of cuts, which will keep my congressman, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), deep in the weeds on the appropriations committee.

The blueprint's 31 percent cut in the Environmental Protection Agency has gotten the most attention for cutting 3,200 workers and defunding of power-plant emission controls. But Transportation Department programs face cuts as well, including transit programs that Trump's transition team identified as critical to emergency preparedness and national security.

This week, members of Congress get 20,000 cards from constituents asking for support of the Legal Services Corp., a federally chartered legal-aid agency that's defunded in the budget blueprint. If they're serious about justice, the Feds need to send in more funds.

Child abuse, domestic violence, foreclosure and natural disasters strike people when they're powerless, and in civil court they're on their own. Local legal clinics are stretched so thin that they turn down half their requests for help. Even with pro-bono legal help and private contributions, LSC grants fund specific programs and help local clinics raise more money. They're critical to keeping far-flung clinics open, so the people most likely to be turned away will in states that backed Trump.

Defunding this program saves $385 million nationwide, less than Chicago's family services budget. And it spreads a lot of pain among people whose voices aren't likely to get heard. Cuts in education, health and arts reflect this brutal, shortsighted pattern. I put my name on a card because this is not how to make America great.

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