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Trump cuts target Great Lakes, Mich. programs

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — President Donald Trump’s $4 trillion budget for 2018 would slash Environmental Protection Agency funding 31 percent, including the elimination of a Great Lakes cleanup program and a cut for emissions testing in Ann Arbor.

The $300-million-a-year Great Lakes Restoration Initiative enjoys bipartisan support in Michigan and other Great Lakes states, but the administration says state and local groups are “capable of taking on management of clean-up and restoration of these water bodies,” a budget memo says.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who co-chairs the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, slammed the administration for “zeroing out” the Great Lakes program, which funds the cleanup of degraded shorelines, fights against invasive species and aims to detect and prevent toxic algae blooms.

“Thanks to thousands of people across Michigan speaking out, we already stopped cuts for this year,” she said in a statement. “This is a moment for Michigan when we all need to stand together to protect our Great Lakes.”

As part of the plan to reduce the EPA’s budget, the administration envisions an 18 percent reduction to $76 million for the agency’s vehicle emissions testing program, which is largely carried out at the EPA facility in Ann Arbor, the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory.

The agency uses the facility for certifying that vehicles and engines meet federal emissions and fuel economy standards, and for analyzing fuels and fuel additives. Industry representatives have suggested that funding cuts at the lab could delay new-car certifications under the Clean Air Act.

The lab could also lose staff under an agency proposal to reduce the number of full-time employees under the Office of Transportation and Air Quality from 353 to 304, according to agency budget documents. Of those positions, 270 are based at the Ann Arbor facility.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn said the cuts would jeopardize operations and jobs at the lab, “which does critical work to reduce vehicle emissions and ensure the U.S. stays at the forefront of innovation.”

Also on the chopping block is a largely inactive $25 billion loan program at the Energy Department for advanced technology vehicle manufacturing. Automakers such as Ford Motor Co. and Nissan took advantage of the program during the recession, but the White House says such financing is a more appropriate role for the private sector.

But Trump’s blueprint, unveiled Tuesday morning, included funding hikes. Unlike former President Barack Obama’s last few proposals, the latest Pentagon budget fully funds the entire fleet of 283 A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, an attack fighter plane known as the Warthog. There are 21 such planes at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Macomb County.

The Air Force has plans to retire the fleet but has pushed back retiring the jet until at least 2022, in part because it has been in high demand by commanders in the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Trump’s spending plan also calls for massive cuts to benefit programs such as Medicaid, food assistance, farm subsidies and the Children’s Heath Insurance Program over the next decade. Political experts expect the spending blueprint to be a starting point for budget negotiations with Congress.

Research institutions such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State University could see fewer grants from the National Institutes of Health if Congress approves Trump’s plan to reduce spending for the nation’s top medical research agency by nearly $5.8 billion.

The Department of Energy’s budget includes $80 million to support the ongoing construction of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams — a physics research center at MSU projected to create 1,000 permanent jobs. That level of funding is $20 million less than in fiscal 2016.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, stressed that Trump’s budget is just a proposal, and that many of the proposed cuts to domestic programs that Michiganians rely on are “frankly, non-starters” in Congress.

“Of particular concern is funding for our Great Lakes and the National Institutes of Health,” said Upton, who met Tuesday with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to press him on the importance of funding for the Great Lakes.

“This process is only beginning. I will continue to advocate for common-sense budgeting that reels in spending, makes government more accountable, but also properly funds essential programs the most vulnerable amongst us depend on.”

On Medicaid, Trump proposes that, starting in 2020, states choose between a cap based on how many enrollees it has or a block grant that theoretically would give states more flexibility in directing the money.

Medicaid program covers 2.4 million low-income Michigan residents, including more than 650,000 enrolled in an expanded eligibility program created under the federal Affordable Care Act. Michigan officials have said that steep federal cuts would likely trigger the end of Michigan’s expansion program by 2020.

Trump wants to cut $193 billion from food stamps over the next decade, a reduction of more than 25 percent, in part by tightening eligibility and adding more work requirements. States would be asked to pay a share of its residents’ benefits.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney noted that the number of people on food stamps went from 28 million before the recession to 47 million at its height. Years after the recession ended, roughly 44 million years people still receive the aid, he said.

“Why is the number still that high? If you’re paying for it, isn’t it reasonable for you to at least ask the question, are there people on that program who shouldn’t be on there?” Mulvaney told reporters at the White House.

“We don’t think that’s unreasonable. In fact, we think that is the definition of compassionate — a compassion that is balanced between the people who get the benefits and the people who pay them.”

The administration also proposes a new fee for retailers seeking authorization to accept and redeem the electronic benefits provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

The budget aims to reduce the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program by roughly $15.6 billion over 10 years and eliminates low-income heating and energy assistance — a program that sent $140 million to Michigan households for help with heating bills and weatherization in fiscal 2017.

“Rather than investing in policies that promote manufacturing, support small businesses, strengthen education, and drive our economy forward, President Trump’s budget only offers counterproductive cuts that would stifle Michigan’s economic growth and strain the pocketbooks of Michigan families,” Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township said in a statement.

The Department of Agriculture’s budget aims to save $16 billion over 10 years by capping crop insurance premium subsidies at $40,000 a farmer per year. Currently, the federal program pays a subsidy to reduce premiums charged to producers by insurers, and has no annual limits.

The plan also aims to limit eligibility for the crop insurance program and for agricultural commodity payments, and to streamline conservation programs.

Stabenow called reductions to farm and family safety net programs, including crop insurance and food assistance, “harsh and short-sighted.”

mburke@detroitnews.com