President Donald Trump released a preliminary sketch of his budget priorities — the so-called “skinny budget” — last week. Those priorities include massive cuts to critical major agencies — a 31 percent reduction in the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency, for example. But they also evidently include the outright elimination of a number of much smaller government agencies, including cultural organizations like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which, with a budget of less than half a billion dollars, or approximately $1.35 per citizen, helps underwrite National Public Radio, public television, and much of the programming that appears on both.
In a statement, PBS CEO Paula Kerger pointed out that support for public broadcasting is bipartisan.
“Rasmussen shows that just 21 percent of Americans — and only 32 percent of Republicans — favor ending public broadcasting support,” Kerger said. “In the PBS Hart Research–American Viewpoint poll, 83 percent of voters — including 70 percent of those who voted for President Trump — say they want Congress to find savings elsewhere.”
Trump would also eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which between them have a budget of $315 million and fund artists, writers, museums, exhibitions, award-winning books, films, and research projects; and the Institute for Library and Museum Sciences, the primary source of federal support for public libraries and museums, with a budget of $228 million.
“Eliminating the NEA would have a significant impact on the city, disrupting funding for hundreds of cultural organizations and jeopardizing programs for the millions of New Yorkers they serve,” New York City Comptroller
Scott Stringer said in a statement. “Organizations supported by the NEA have an outsized impact on the city, delivering arts programming and education in scores of neighborhoods, spurring creativity and critical thinking, and providing thousands of jobs to local residents.”
Gutting this cultural funding is expected to be devastating to American arts and culture, but there are plenty of other agencies slated for elimination:
• The Legal Services Corporation, established by Richard Nixon, which, with a $385 million budget, pays for people who can’t afford the legal representation to pay for lawyers. If the idea of poor people going into court without a lawyer to fight a case against rich people who do have a lawyer offends your sense of justice, the Legal Services Corporation is a big deal.??
• The Interagency Council on Homelessness, which has twenty employees and a $3.5 million budget, and which is tasked with coordinating government agencies’ efforts to end homelessness. (We’re never going to Make America Great Again, apparently, if we let ourselves get distracted by trying to put a roof over people’s heads.)??
• The Chemical Safety Board, charged with investigating and preventing things like the Deepwater Horizon spill and the deadly West Fertilizer Plant explosion.??
• Regional development programs for lifting isolated and chronically depressed parts of America out of poverty, such as the Appalachian Regional Commission ($146 million budget); the Delta Regional Authority ($25 million budget); the Denali Commission, which spent $8 million last year on basic infrastructure in remote parts of Alaska; and the Northern Border Regional Commission, which supports community development in the north country of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.
• The United State Institute of Peace, which endeavors to cultivate foreign policy alternatives to total war.
• The Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs AmeriCorps and the VISTA program.
• The African Development Foundation, which gives small grants to encourage economic development in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Inter-American Foundation, which does similar work in Latin America and the Caribbean.
• The U.S. Trade and Development Agency, which for 56 years has helped American companies sell their products and services in developing countries, with a budget of $60 million, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which coordinates private investment in overseas development work.
• The Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, a community development nonprofit that, among other things, counsels homeowners facing the threat of foreclosure and educates Americans about loan modification scams.
• The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a policy think tank attached to the Smithsonian Institution.
It’s worth remembering that the budget document is only a vague sketch — even more vague than similar documents from other administrations — and that the survival or elimination of these programs will ultimately depend on the actions of Congress. Nonetheless, the document gives a sense of President Trump’s priorities, which do not appear to include access to legal counsel, freedom from chemical explosions, an end to homelessness, or government support for the arts.