Federal budget may strain local resources

Share is among groups that may need support

MILFORD – President Donald Trump submitted a budget last week that some call heartless because it would take money from programs that help feed and warm the homes of low-income Americans while boosting spending for military defense and a wall along the border with Mexico.

The 2018 federal budget proposal eliminates the federal low-income fuel assistance and the Community Development Block Grant program, the major funder of Meals On Wheels.

“I absolutely have concerns about proposed cuts to safety net programs,” said Chris Janson, executive director of Share Outreach, the local charity organization. “The cost of living is high in our area, and these programs provide support to low-income households so that they are able to feed themselves, stay warm in the winter and keep their lights on.”

It will be difficult to meet everyone’s needs without fuel assistance, she said, and cuts could mean Share and local welfare offices would have to make up for the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel-assistance funding.

“Fuel assistance is so necessary in this region, where, in a cold winter, a $650 allotment might only last for one winter month,” said Susan Drew, Milford’s welfare director.

When people on a financial edge have to pay for their fuel, the money will come from what they have for food, rent or prescription drugs.

“We’ve had incidences where people were heating with their stove,” said Janson, who said use of electric space heaters to replace oil and gas heating can lead to high electric bills.

“When a program goes away, the need doesn’t go away,” she said.

New Hampshire towns are legally required to have a welfare office and provide basic needs on a temporary basis, and Milford provides a lot of community support to the poor. Janson is also concerned about small towns in the Monadnock Region that don’t have access to resources such as Share, which serves Amherst, Brookline, Milford and Mont Vernon, and which might not have a welfare director.

Cuts in food stamps aren’t part of the proposed federal budget plan, but Share gets food from a U.S. Department of Agriculture program called TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), which could be on the chopping block, she said.

Many of Share’s clients and other residents receive other USDA food assistance through WIC (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which is food for low-income senior citizens and for school lunch programs.

“If supplemental food programs go away, Share would be directly impacted,” said Janson, who said Share would have to come up with ways to replace that food.

Individuals who receive assistance through WIC and CSFP would need to find ways to make up for the lack of that food in their lives – probably through a food pantry.

Some good news, Drew said, is that Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for the poor, hasn’t been targeted so far.

The bottom line, Janson said, is that “lots of residents get assistance that may be cut, and the towns and charities like Share will be left to help people meet these needs.”

Funding for the poor might also be restricted on the state level with a proposed Senate bill that would raise income eligibility requirements for food stamps.

“From a Milford perspective, I’m concerned about the impact on our children, families and seniors who rely on this program for food,” state Rep. Joelle Martin said.

The federal “discretionary” budget for 2018 shows how the president would like to spend about $1.1 trillion. Among its other cuts are funds for scientific and medical research and arts funding.

There is a proposed $54 billion increase in defense and homeland security spending, a $1.4 billion increase for public and private school choice programs, and no funding for before- and after-school and summer programs, according to CNNMoney.

Federal spending on nondefense discretionary programs is already historically low, the financial news website said. As a share of the economy, it’s at its lowest level since 1998 and is well below where it was 50 years ago, according to data from the Congressional Budget Office.

A spokesman from the federal Office of Management and Budget told reporters last week that programs such as fuel assistance were not working as intended.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.