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What Does Trump’s New Government Spending Bill Mean for Advocacy?

Nonprofits and government agencies face an uncertain future.

by Michelle Betters
May 8 2017, 7:00pm

In the first week of May, Congress narrowly avoided a government shutdown by compromising on a bipartisan spending bill. While critics consider the deal
a symbolic loss for Donald Trump and the GOP, the five-month budget also offers the nonprofit sector and agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) a much-needed reprieve. Unfortunately, this sense of relief might only be temporary, as the president promises to drastically cut domestic programs when the fiscal year 2018 starts in October.

When the Trump administration released its financial plan back in March 2017, it didn't bode well for nonprofit organizations, independent agencies, and advocacy groups that receive federal funding. The proposal, for example, infamously set out to eliminate the community development grant program that many state and local governments use to support Meals on Wheels. It also aimed to drastically decrease the Environmental Protection Agency's budget by 31 percent, doing away with several multi-state environmental cleanup projects. All of these cuts would leave more money for the government to spend on the military and, of course, the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Unlike the president's slew of executive orders, the trillion-dollar budget he signed on Friday, May 5 is not remarkable in what it incises, but what it does not. In fact, a handful of groups that the White House intended to get rid of were spared. Planned Parenthood, Pell Grants, the National Institutes of Health, and the EPA went surprisingly unscathed, though the House did vote to defund Planned Parenthood in the new health care bill.

The NEA, which is one of the only agencies funding cultural and artistic projects in all fifty states, will actually see a $2 million increase in its annual budget. Though the current administration certainly isn't the first to target what conservative critic Laurence Jarvik described as "welfare for artists," some hope that giving giving so much money to veterans and active military programs will help the agency survive. Last year the NEA gave $499,000 to projects supporting veterans as well as $627,000 to projects by people with disabilities.

After Congress released the details of their spending bill on Monday, members of the media deemed it an overall victory for Democrats. POTUS took to Twitter in response, claiming, "Our country needs a good "shutdown" in September to fix mess!" Despite backpedaling and calling the compromise "a clear win for the American people" just hours later, Trump clearly wasn't happy with the Republican party's concessions. Not only does the bill fail to finance the border wall, but it also does not revoke funds to sanctuary cities, a move that has been threatened by multiple members of Trump's cabinet.

In other words, if Trump's initial resistance to the bipartisan deal is any indication, everything could change on October 1. Considering his ongoing streak of deregulatory executive orders, it is totally possible that the president and his GOP counterparts will push for extreme cuts in 2018. "Federal funding to support nonprofits," writes Liz Moyer in the New York Times, "has been a Republican bugaboo since the Reagan era, when policy priorities focused on cutting taxes."

While Republicans in Congress work to dismantle Planned Parenthood through their updated American Health Care Act, the future for a majority of the nonprofit sector remains unclear. If the Trump administration's budget-cutting efforts extend to all of the agencies it has promised to undermine, funding nonprofit organizations and other social programs will fall on the shoulders of state or local governments.

At a press conference last week, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney explained that Trump will make another funding request later this month, which is only the first step in the intricate federal budget process, and he'll include further cuts to fund the border wall. The president's request will be considered, amended, and voted on by multiple congressional committees before another compromise--or government shutdown--happens in September.

This means it's not too late to voice your concerns about government spending at a townhall meeting or over the phone. Find contact information for your elected officials at Common Cause or the government's public database. For tips on making sure Congress hears you, check out Indivisible Guide, an online resource founded by former congressional staffers.