Under President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget, which trims virtually every agency except for the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security, which will be raised by 22 percent or 59.2 billion, several arts organizations as well as public broadcasting will lose significant funding.
Breaking down the budget
The proposal was initially intended to lower the national debt by $18.96 trillion as reported on January 26, 2016 and will alleviate by cutting over $54 million. The plan, called the “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” will decrease federal support for many departments, including the Department of Transportation by 12.7 percent, or $2.4 billion, the Department of Health and Human Services by 16.2 percent, or $5.8 billion, the Department of Education by 31.4 percent, or $2.6 billion, with 3,200 jobs slashed.
Several organizations would be entirely eliminated and will need to find alternative forms of funding and, in some cases, employment if they choose to continue.
Although the budget has not yet been approved by Congress, many organizations already are preparing to find alternative means to support their organizations, including soliciting donors prior to the fall. Several Abilene organizations and community centers are also feeling the weight of this issue as it will cause several programs including Meals on Wheels, KACU and the Grace Museum to redefine their priorities.
Meals On Wheels: meal cuts and pink slips
Meals on Wheels Plus serves more than 1,000 home-delivered meals for the past 42 years with more than 700 trained community volunteers. Serving several meals to local community Monday through Friday, Meals on Wheels plus primarily serves adults over the age of 60 with some younger adults with disabilities. With 90 percent of their clientele in the low income households and only 10 percent making donations for the food they receive, Meals on Wheels plus leaders hope the proposed federal budget cuts will not lead them to take drastic measures.
Betty Bradley, Meals on Wheels plus executive director, said she understands people’s concerns of the president’s proposal, but hopes that the budget will be revised repeatedly by the House and Senate before it is finalized. According to Bradley, Meals on Wheels plus has a budget of two million dollars and does not rely on grants like the Community Development Block as it is only a portion of the funding used for the organization. Meals on Wheels plus is also not covered by acts such as the Older Americans Act which was first enacted in 1965 under president Johnson to “provide services and assistance for older persons through grants to the States for community planning and services”. One of the sources of funding however is the Social Security Act Title XX which allows some states to use the grant for projects and services they choose. Luckily, Texas is one of 17 states that allows it to be used for the home delivered meals.
Although it sounds like Meals on Wheels plus will remain afloat with the allowance federal budget cuts, the Social Security Act Title XX was not mentioned in Trump’s budget plan- formally called a “skinny budget” because of the lack of details.
“Right now, I consider it safe,” Bradley said, “but we have to realize that this is just the House’s budget. There is still a lot of revisions and resistance that could occur before the budget is finalized and put into motion. Until then, it’s very possible, we’ll be on the chopping block.”
Bradley said she hopes it doesn’t have to come to the point where they have to choose who gets priority. At this point, their budget not targeted for budget cuts.
But, what if the bill does pass? Will acts like the Social Security Act Title XX take an unexpected turn? It may be tomorrow when they realize pink slips will have to start being handed out and face the agony of telling the their cliental their meals might come at a price – a price they cannot afford. In the meantime, Meals on Wheels plus will continue to serve its purpose.
KACU: Can you hear me now?
Located on the first floor of the Don Morris building sits a small off-grey office from which NPR news, classical music and local Abilene news are broadcast on a 24-hour cycle daily. KACU has served roughly 166,963 people in the Abilene and the surrounding rural areas with updated national, local and state news for the past 30 years. Under the proposed budget, the Corporation of Public Broadcasting will be zeroed out, cutting $445 million. Although CPB only makes up .01 percent of the entire current federal budget, the CPB will no longer be able to fund the 1,300 public radio stations or networks throughout the states. With more than 41 million people who consume some sort of public radio or network information, stations like KACU will have to find other means of funding if they want to keep all of the content the air.
With the CPB grants, KACU is offered only a fraction of the smaller portion of $99 million set aside for radio purposes. From there, only $69.2 million is allowed to be used for approved grantees with only roughly $141,000 allowed to be obtained by each individual approved stations at most. In fiscal 2016, KACU was granted $118,000, which allowed it to operate efficiently with little-to-no cuts. However, KACU depends on the CPB grants for 28 percent of its budget, as of last year, and will be in serious financial trouble if about one quarter of their budget was terminated, said leaders at the station.
Nathan Gibbs, assistant professor and general manager of the station, said if the budget was processed as is, KACU would have to find alternative means of funding, including having to drop certain NPR programs and weekend music slots.
“We would, of course, survive, but we would no longer be this type of station,” said Gibbs. “We’d really have to ask the community to step up with they want to keep things the way they are. It’s going to be a real struggle if this all went away, and many stations would just die.”
Gibbs said as part of the application for CPB grants, several qualifications need to be met including educational sessions that can educate the broader community. Sessions like Morning Edition and All Things Considered are two of the most-listened-to news programs NPR has to offer. Gibbs said KACU is unlike other radio stations because it seeks to help educate and serve the community. To do that though, the station needs the grants.
“I would even argue from a Christian standpoint that this fulfills the community service mission, which can be seen as threatened,” said Gibbs. “Service is in our mission statement, and I think that it’s one of the things we can truly fulfill.”
The Grace Museum: Goodbye, neon light?
Known as a local favorite around the sidewalks of downtown Abilene, the Grace Museum stands a monumental landmark for all admirers of the local arts, photography and artists. The neon-red sign stands on the rooftop of the brick building as sign of peace and artistry in a town too small to be mapped on a globe. The lights have begun to flicker and could potentially be turned off temporality in the coming months. Under the proposed budget, the National Endowment for the Arts is could be zeroed out along with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Receiving $10,000 in 2014, the Grace would have to find other ways to receive that amount of funding, if necessary.
The National Endowment for the Arts originally was founded in 1965 as an independent federal agency aiming to support partnerships that allow people to enjoy and experience the arts in various settings. Within the federal budget, the NEA allocates $148 million or less than .01 percent of the overall budget. Since the release of the proposed budget, the NEA released a fact sheet for its members to be updated with the current budget situation, but reassures its members that the proposed budget is part of a long process and hope that their budget will only be deducted instead of completely slashed. Granting more than $5 billion to local and independent art affiliates, supporters of the NEA are already making donation promises to keep the organization alive.
Sarah Tenison, Grace director of guest services and grants, said she’s optimistic the Abilene community will become more active if the NEA is slashed as planned.
“The arts is a very big part of the Abilene community and we really do hope members of the community step up when the time is needed,” said Tenison. “More than anything, it’s very sad that something like the arts needs to be cut. Abilene needs the arts and it just doesn’t make sense that something else is seen as more prevalent.”
Tenison said the Grace will continue to run as normal, but if the scheduled budget cuts the NEA, some sources will have to be let go such as programs for children and some exhibits.
The waiting game
Abilene is know for generosity to its local nonprofits, but for now, those organizations remain in limbo. The proposed budget is just one version of what will be later be finalized in the coming months. The back and forth fight between the House and Senate has only just begun. Organizations and agencies like Meals on Wheels and KACU and museums like the Grace way they will face some serious challenges in the coming years. And they’re already building their contingency plans.
Until then, some Abilene nonprofits with continue taking it one day, one dollar and one donor at a time.
Some of the agencies and organizations cut or zeroed out are as follows:
- African Development Foundation
- Appalachian Regional Commission
- Community Development Block Grant, which in part funds Meals on Wheels
- Corporation for National and Community Service
- Corporation for Public Broadcasting
- Delta Regional Authority
- Economic Development Administration
- Essential Air Service program
- Global Climate Change Initiative
- Institute of Museum and Library Services
- Legal Services Corporation
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
- Minority Business Development Agency, under Commerce
- National Endowment for the Arts
- National Endowment for the Humanities
- NASA’s Office of Education
- Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation
- Northern Border Regional Commission
- State Energy Program
- United States Institute of Peace
- United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
- Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars