JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – President Donald Trump will unveil a proposed budget this week that would drive millions of people off food stamps and cut Medicaid, targeting the social safety-net programs for the poor in a new wave of spending cuts.
Trump's blueprint for the 2018 budget year comes out Tuesday. It includes reductions to benefit programs such as Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poorest and many disabled Americans; federal employee pensions, welfare benefits and farm subsidies. Even before its release, it was widely panned by Republicans and Democrats.
All told, according to people familiar with the plan, Trump's budget includes $1.7 trillion over 10 years in cuts from such so-called mandatory programs. That includes cuts to pensions for federal workers and higher contributions toward those pension benefits, as well as cuts to refundable tax credits paid to the working poor. People familiar with the plan were not authorized to discuss it by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Cuts include a whopping $193 billion from food stamps over the coming decade -- a cut of more than 25 percent -- implemented by cutting back eligibility and imposing additional work requirements, according to talking points circulated by the White House. The program presently serves about 42 million people.
The food stamp cuts are several times larger than those attempted by House Republicans a few years back and comprise the bulk of a 10-year, $274 billion proposal that's labeled as welfare reform.
In Florida, 3.1 million get food assistance -- down 4 percent from last year, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Locally, 168,000 people in Duval County receive food stamps -- down 2.8 percent, 13,629 people in St. Johns County -- down 6.9 percent, 21,918 people in Clay County -- down 4.5 percent, 7,823 in Nassau County -- down 7.8 percent, and 4,617 in Baker County -- down 7 percent.
News4Jax on Monday spoke with Jacksonville residents who depend on food stamps. Their response: the proposed cuts would leave people hungry.
Alice Williams said she's been on food stamps for several years and needs them in order to afford health food for her child. She said cutting the food stamp program by more than 25 percent is unacceptable, and she would have to borrow money from friends and stand in line at food banks.
"My son is 8 years old. And I'll have to go to this food bank just to get a box of cereal or a jug of milk," Williams said. "I got two packs of meat in my refrigerator right now, and it's not enough to stretch to the first" of the month.
Williams is far from alone. Everyone at one food stamp office run by DCF on Monday told News4Jax the same thing. Donald Clemons said he can't work because of a disability, and the food stamps are how he gets by for now. But he admitted that there is a lot of waste, saying something needs to be done.
"I don't want to take too much advantage of the system because there's already too many people out there that do," Clemons said.
Judith Santiago said her children would be the ones to suffer if the cuts go through.
"Children need that service," she said. "They're going to be hurt."
When asked about the proposed cut to the food stamp program, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford told News4Jax that the budget is just a starting point, but some reform in the program may be need to help cut down on waste and fraud.
U.S. Rep. Al Lawson released the following statement:
“In my district, one in every four Floridians has been on food stamps at some point over the last 12 months. That is twice the national average.
“It is unconscionable for the President to propose cutting nutrition benefits at any level, because any reduction would mean less for those in North Florida who need it most. Every day, children who qualify for free breakfast and lunch attend school and are fed the only meals they will receive that day because their parents can’t afford to feed them. We put hard working Floridians in the no-win position of having to choose between paying their light bill or affording healthy food. This is unacceptable.
“While I think we need to find innovative ways to make our federal government run more efficiently and save tax payer dollars, extreme cuts that will harm America’s seniors, children, and families is not the way to do it. I believe that our national budget is a reflection of our values as a society and this does not align with the values of Florida’s fifth Congressional district, and therefore I intend to strongly oppose it.”
Presidential budgets are mere suggestions, and the White House has discretion to assume higher economic growth rates of up to 3 percent or so under Trump's agenda of tax changes, loosened regulations and infrastructure spending.