By Keith Rushing
Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 is in many ways an attack on communities of color, specifically African Americans and those who are low-income.
In the budget plan released on Tues., May 23, 2017, Trump proposes cutting $800 billion from Medicaid, the government-funded program for low-income people. Medicaid is by no means a program set aside for black people. But, because we are more likely to be low income, African Americans are more likely to use this benefit.
Similarly, black people are twice as likely as whites to have used
the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. Thirty-one percent of African Americans have used food stamps while 15 percent of whites have used the benefit.
Trump’s planned gutting of the social safety net didn’t stop at housing and health care but also involves slashing $3 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget allotted for rental assistance and set aside to help distressed neighborhoods with public housing.
During the campaign, Trump promised nothing substantive for black people and nothing for people who are low-income. The few vague promises he made seem meaningless now.
In September, during the presidential campaign, Trump called Flint’s water problem “a shame” and vowed to fix it quickly and effectively. But, instead of committing resources to address lead poisoning, a national problem affecting millions families in the United States, Trump plans to cut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget for the lead-risk reduction program.
Lead poisoning is a serious national problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that at least 4 million U.S. households with children have elevated levels of lead, which can cause long-term harm to brain development and the nervous the system.
A recent investigative report identified 3,000 areas of the country with lead poisoning rates that far exceed national water safety standards, reminiscent of Flint, Michigan’s catastrophic water contamination that first garnered national attention in 2015.
This crisis is particularly relevant to African Americans because black children between ages 1 and 5 are more vulnerable to lead exposure than any other racial group, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In a recent conversation, Dr. Mark Mitchell, a co-chair of the National Medical Association’s commission on environmental health talked about what lead does and how it impacts black children.
“This [lead problem] matters because of the effects of lead on the mental health and development of children,” Mitchell said. Reductions in IQ, the inability to learn and attention deficit disorder are associated with lead even at low levels.”
Scant research has been undertaken to explain why African Americans suffer from lead poisoning at greater rates than others, but Mitchell said the problem is most likely related to living in regions that have higher levels of toxins.
“African Americans are more likely to live near coal-fired power plants and more likely to live in urban areas where lead tends to line busy streets,” he said. Mitchell explained that one reason for high lead exposure involves lead weights used to balance tires that fall off and get crushed into dust that gets tracked indoors. Older housing and rental housing are also more likely to have old, peeling paint that falls off and contaminates homes.
Mitchell was part of a national coalition of scientists, health professionals and children’s advocates that called on the Trump Administration last week to develop a plan to protect children from lead exposure within five years and put an end to the toxic hazard by 2030. The group, Project Tendr, said society would benefit economically by addressing lead aggressively given that the savings in healthcare costs would outweigh the cost of ridding our society of lead contamination.
In some corners of the Trump administration, there seemed to be some real concern about lead exposure in recent months. In January, during his confirmation hearing, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said dealing with lead would be a priority for him—not only abating lead, but also establishing clinics to address lead exposure.
But all he did this week is defend Trump’s planned cuts to his agency.
Fortunately, Trump’s proposal is unlikely to find much support in Congress. But it does show us who he is, revealing his incredible lack of empathy for the most vulnerable in our society. And with allies like Carson, the lone black cabinet member, there’s no one in the Trump administration to look to.
We must look to ourselves for the solutions we seek. And resist all efforts to set our communities back.
Keith Rushing is a Lead Advocacy Press Secretary in the Washington, D.C. office for Earthjustice, the nation’s premier environmental law organization. Rushing is a communications director, writer-editor, blogger and journalist with a passion for social justice issues and traditional and digital media. Before getting into advocacy, he was an award-winning journalist who was recognized for his enterprise reporting.