President Trump released his blueprint budget for 2018 on Thursday, outlining the new administration's spending priorities. As promised, Trump delivered a proposal that allows for huge increases in spending on defense and border security. But all the fancy new fighter jets and missiles and ships and additional immigration officers to keep out "bad hombres" would come at a cost to other government agencies, including $4.7 billion in cuts to the United States Department of Agriculture and slashing funds to Meals on Wheels.
The proposed cuts at the USDA, which oversees government programs that deal with agriculture, nutrition, and rural areas, would represent a 21 percent reduction to the agency's "discretionary" spending, bringing the agency's discretionary budget to $17.9 billion. Crop subsidies and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, are considered mandatory and would remain untouched.
But the discretionary cost-cutting would reduce funding for USDA's statistical services, which help farmers navigate the market for their produce, and do away with water infrastructure programs that help small rural communities. It would also cut back on staff at the Farm Service Agency, which maintains offices throughout the country that help implement farm programs and distribute loans. A food aid program that provides food to children in poverty in foreign countries would also be axed.
"American farmers and ranchers in the current economic climate are already facing a lot of economic challenges," RJ Karney, the Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau Foundation, told MUNCHIES. "So it's concerning to have a lot of these programs put on the chopping block."
Legislators, too, were quick to fire back against Trump's budget.
"I am concerned that the cuts, while relatively small in the context of the total federal budget, could hamper some vital work of the Department," Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, a Republican, said. "I think it is very important to remember that net farm income is down 50 percent from where it stood just four years ago. America's farmers and ranchers are struggling, and we need to be extremely careful not to exacerbate these conditions."
It's unclear exactly how the proposed cuts would affect American farmers and agriculture if they were to go into effect, as the budget proposal in light on details.
"The cuts are very hard to gauge given how few details there are to it that I've seen," Jonathan Coppess, Director of the Gardner Agricultural Policy Program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the former Administrator of the USDA's Farm Service Agency, told MUNCHIES. "It did not appear to directly impact farm program payments, crop insurance or conservation. It did appear to vaguely mention reducing county offices, which is always highly contentious in Congress and on the ground."
Some farm industry representatives thought the proposal, with its cuts to agriculture, itself may have been a reflection of a lack in leadership at the USDA—Trump's agriculture secretary appointee, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, has yet to be confirmed and has been the subject of inquiries relating to ethics violations in the past.
"Farmers, ranchers, and rural Americans did not have a champion to guide the legislation itself," Kearney told MUNCHIES. "That was a concern from the Farm Bureau's perspective."
The budget also proposed cuts to an agency that partially funds Meals on Wheels, which serves over 2.4 million senior citizens. That provoked an even stronger public outcry. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, support for Meals on Wheels skyrocketed, and on Thursday, Meals on Wheels received 50 times the amount of donations they typically get in a day, and five times the number of volunteers. However, over the weekend, claims that Meals on Wheels would be "gutted" were countered by Trump's budget director. The program's funding comes from a number of different sources.
But in the end, Trump's budget proposal is just that—a recommendation that will have to be passed by Congress and will likely see some significant changes. And if enough of Trump's own supporters recognize that they benefit from programs on the chopping block, perhaps Democrat and Republican critics alike will breathe a sigh of relief when it's all said and done.