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Jane Graham Jenning
In Wausau, The Women’s Community relies heavily on funding from the Office of Violence Against Women. About 18%—roughly $215,000—of its total budget depends on grants tied to OVW support, says Jane Graham Jennings, the organization’s executive director.
There’s little doubt the U.S. has seen some eventful first weeks since Donald Trump was sworn in as president. While the immigration travel ban caused the greatest stir, Americans can expect more changes to come, many of which are on track to be felt locally.
The Trump administration is considering severe cuts in federal spending as part of a plan to chip away at the nearly $20 trillion national debt. But Trump has vowed not to cut Social Security or Medicare, and has also promised to boost military spending, which combined represent the vast majority of the overall budget.
So the bulk of the savings, it seems, would come from eliminating 17 federal agencies and programs, most of which are considered progressive priorities: environmental protection, the arts, victims of domestic violence, and civil rights protections.
The proposed cuts, as reported by several national media outlets, hew closely to a federal budget blueprint released by the influential conservative think tank Heritage Foundation in February 2016. These cuts wouldn’t just close down federal offices in Washington, D.C., they’d have a large ripple effect felt by businesses, municipalities, schools and nonprofit agencies that receive—and in many cases rely on—grants from those federal agencies.
From just an initial tally, the Wausau area stands to lose at least $1.3 million a year in funding for high-profile programs alone. The actual effect would be larger, as the proposed cuts are so extensive City Pages tracked down only the most obvious ones affecting local businesses, governments and organizations.
For example, nearly one-fifth of The Women’s Community’s budget relies on federal grant programs proposed for elimination. The Wausau-based Judicare office, which provides civil case legal services to low-income people in Wisconsin, would likely shut down entirely. Also on the chopping block is the National Endowment for the Arts, which helps supports The Grand Theater and Woodson Art Museum, among others.
Private businesses and economic development efforts aren’t immune, either. The budget-cutting blueprint calls for eliminating several programs that conservatives label corporate welfare: the Minority Business Development Agency, the Economic Development Administration, the International Trade Administration and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
At the Department of Energy, it would mean rolling back to 2008 levels funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research; and eliminating the Office of Electricity, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy as well as the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
At the State Department, funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are all on the chopping block.
Snapshot of local impact: Federal programs eyed for elimination
Office of Violence Against Women
Annual budget: $480 million
Cost per American: $1.48
Among local organizations affected:
The Women’s Community
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The Women’s Community
National statistics show that Southeast Asian women are two times more likely to experience violence by an intimate partner. Losing this program would mean The Women’s Community would no longer have advocates specifically for Hmong victims, Graham Jennings says.
The OVW, part of the U.S. Department of Justice runs 25 grant programs created through the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA. The office administers financial and technical assistance to communities that are developing programs and practices aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
Through a multitude of specific grants, money is funneled to the state and then to specific agencies, such as The Women’s Community in Wausau, that provide legal and support services to victims. Grants also fund programs that support victims and hold offenders accountable with a coordinated community response. Funding also goes to local, state and tribal governments, courts, other non-profit and community organizations, schools and colleges, and state and tribal coalitions.
These entities work toward developing more effective responses to violence against women, including direct services, crisis intervention, transitional housing, legal assistance, and training for law enforcement. Some OVW grant programs focus on specific populations such as elder victims, or persons with disabilities, college students and teens.
In Wausau, The Women’s Community relies heavily on funding from the OVW. About 18%—roughly $215,000—of its total budget depends on federal and matching grants tied to OVW support, says Jane Graham Jennings, the organization’s executive director. Of that, $56,000 is dedicated to helping victims who are of Hmong or other Southeast Asian descent. That OVW funding covers about three quarters of the cost for this local Southeast Asian advocacy program.
The prospect of losing the Southeast Asian advocacy program is particularly worrisome because of the enormous need for services, due in part to widely held cultural views that keep many victims from reporting abuse. National statistics show that Southeast Asian women are two times more likely to experience violence by an intimate partner. Losing this program would mean The Women’s Community would no longer have advocates specifically for Hmong victims, Graham Jennings says. Those advocates are crucial because they understand the cultural nuances necessary in helping Southeast Asian victims of abuse.
Furthermore, OVW grant programs largely fund a prosecutor assigned to domestic violence cases, and help pay for a victim-witness coordinator and a special investigator, all in the Marathon County District Attorney’s office. These staff members work closely with The Women’s Community on a regular basis.
Historically speaking, Graham Jennings says, there typically has been strong bipartisan support for funding OVW programs that fall under the Violence Against Women Act, but, “The current threat to funding seems to be more drastic than anything we’ve seen.”
Legal Services Corporation
Annual budget: $503 million
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Wisconsin Judicare Executive Director Kimberly Haas says roughly half of the organization’s funding is tied to the LSC.
Cost per American: $1.55
Local organizations affected: Wisconsin Judicare
The LSC helps low income Americans afford legal services by funding programs that provide free legal aid for civil (rather than criminal) cases. About two-thirds of clients served are minorities.
Locally, Wisconsin Judicare, based in Wausau, is one of 134 organizations funded by the LSC. Judicare receives roughly 4,000 applications for services each year, representing residents in 33 counties including Marathon, along with members of 11 Native American tribes.
Some clients are fighting unfair social security or disability rulings; others are victims of identity theft or need help with thorny family law issues. Many are victims of domestic violence who no longer are safe in their homes, says Executive Director Kimberly Haas, and need legal help to settle subsequent housing complications: for example, negotiating with a landlord if both victim and abuser signed the same lease.
Those who qualify for services have incomes falling below 125% of the federal poverty level. For a single person, that amounts to $290 a week, $1,256 per month and $15,075 per year. For a family of four, the guideline is $591 per week, $2,563 per month and $30,750 per year.
“Sometimes we’re negotiating with landlords, sometimes we’re walking into court with these people,” Haas says. “The legal system can be difficult to navigate, even more so for victims of abuse.”
If LSC is eliminated, Wisconsin Judicare will likely cease to exist, Haas says. “Then, there will be no one to help these people.”
While LSC contributes about half of Wisconsin Judicare’s roughly $2 million annual budget, eliminating that federal program will decimate Judicare’s ability to obtain matching grants or other sources of funding, Haas says. “The effect will be devastating,” Haas says.
Even a 10% decrease in LSC funding means Judicare, which currently staffs 11 attorneys, would lose 1.5 full-time positions.
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Annual budget: $445 million
Cost per American: $1.35
Among local organizations affected: Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television
The private, nonprofit CPB was created by Congress in the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. The organization acts as a steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting and is the largest single source of funding for public radio, television, and related online and mobile services. The CPB helps fund dozens of public TV and radio stations in Wisconsin and their diverse programs that aim to inform, educate, and enrich the public.
Wisconsin Public Broadcasting, which includes six TV and more than 30 radio stations, stands to lose 10% of its $18 million annual budget in the process, says Gene Purcell, executive director of the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. Radio station WHRM in Wausau is among the stations potentially affected.
“A loss of $1.8 million will be significant; there’s no way around it,” Purcell says. “As for what we would do? I just don’t know that yet.”
Public radio stations not directly affiliated with Wisconsin Public Broadcasting, especially those serving more rural areas, are likely to be more heavily impacted if the CPB ceases to exist, Purcell says. For example, WXPR in Rhinelander, an independent, community-licensed public radio station, stands to lose 25% of its $600,000 annual budget (about $150,000) if the CPB is eliminated, according to General Manager Pete Rondello. WXPR is an affiliate of National Public Radio.
Rondello says Wisconsin stations are more at risk than in some neighboring states. Minnesota, for example, has a voter-approved legacy fund, tacked on to sales tax, that goes to underwrite public broadcasting. “Wisconsin doesn’t have that kind of provision,” he says. “Every station is in a different boat.”
National Endowment for the Arts
Annual budget: $150 million
Cost per American: $0.46
Among local organizations potentially affected: Wausau Conservatory of Music, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Center for the Visual Arts, Wausau Children’s Theatre, Performing Arts Foundation, Wausau Community Theatre
For more than 50 years, the National Endowment for the Arts has promoted diverse opportunities for arts programs. This independent federal agency funds programs at museums, theaters, local arts agencies and other disciplines.
About 40% of all NEA funds are sent directly to state agencies, including the Wisconsin Arts Board, to be matched by state dollars. The Arts Board then grants the funds to applicants proposing projects throughout the state.
In all, the Wisconsin Arts Board issued nearly $60,000 in grants to Wausau-area programs in 2015.
Paula Clark, executive director of the Wausau Conservatory, says her organization received nearly $9,000 last year to pay for teacher salaries, summer music camps, community performances and other initiatives. In the 2015 fiscal year, the Grand Theater’s performance season received $9,500, Wausau Community Theatre $2,000, and Woodson Art Museum $14,000.
“Every dollar that’s invested in the arts goes right back into the community,” Clark says. “If you eliminate that funding, there’s a ripple effect that goes well beyond the programs themselves.”
Economic Development Administration
Annual budget: $215 million
Cost per American: $0.66
Among local organizations affected:
North Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission
The EDA helps communities by driving regional growth, and promoting development at the regional level.
For example, the EDA in 2010 gave a $2 million grant to the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Institute to buy new scientific equipment and provide lab space to support high tech companies throughout that area. That grant, EDA officials say, created nearly 200 jobs, saved an additional 100, and attracted $500,000 in private investments.
Locally, the North Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is on the receiving end of EDA grant funds. This Wausau-based office serves a 10-county region and provides professional technical assistance, research and data for local communities, plus coordination. Ultimately, the organization encourages business retention and growth throughout the area.
For example, the NCWRPC currently is working on an outdoor recreation plan for the town of Rib Mountain, identifying goals for improvement. They are also currently coordinating a regional bicycle and pedestrian plan for the area and recently compiled outdoor recreation plans for the villages of Rothschild and Kronenwetter.
Municipalities, nonprofit groups, and foundations use that research to develop plans of their own, and attract future development that can bring jobs and tax dollars to the entire region.
The bottom line
Of course, the question is, how much would all these cuts save taxpayers? The budget blueprint Trump’s administration is using would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over a span of 10 years, according to a report by The Hill. Broken down per American, the total savings of eliminating the 17 targeted agencies is $22.36 per American per year, according to federal figures. But that is just a small slice of the overall budget, about 77% of which represents Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Still, as WXPR General Manager Pete Rondello points out, these proposed cuts are just that: proposals. The presidential budget is important in setting policy and laying out the administration’s agenda, though Congress would be responsible for approving a federal budget and appropriating funds.
Moving a severe presidential budget through Congress—even one controlled by the president’s own political party—could be difficult, if history is any indication. Moderate Republicans and Democrats on the Appropriations Committee would likely push back at some of the cuts being considered by Trump. A similarly aggressive Republican Study Committee budget failed by a vote of 132 to 294, even with the GOP in control of the House, in 2015.
“We’ve been through this before,” Rondello says. “We’re going to be looking to Congress to see that the potential damage these cuts can make, compared to the overall savings they would really offer, isn’t worth it.”
It’s expected that the Trump administration will release its full budget in April.
Other agencies eyed for elimination:
National Endowment for the Humanities
Budget: $150 million
Cost per American: $0.46
The NEH offers research funding to institutions like museums, colleges and libraries. The agency has backed 16 Pulitzer winners and Ken Burns’ The Civil War series, among other significant endeavors
Minority Business Development Agency
Budget: $36 million
Cost per American: $0.11
This agency helps minority-owned businesses grow, by advocating and promoting to elected officials, policymakers and business leaders.
International Trade Administration
Budget: $521 million
Cost per American: $1.60
Helps businesses market products overseas.
Manufacturing Extension Partnership
Budget: $142 million
Cost per American: $0.43
Helps small- to medium sized manufacturers improve efficiency, build new products and improve marketing.
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Budget: $286 million
Cost per American: $0.88
Helps hire more police personnel, especially in larger cities. No Wausau-area agencies currently receive COPS funds.
Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department
Budget: $156 million
Cost per American: $0.48
Employs 750 staff who fight discrimination and protect voting rights.
Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department
Budget: $123 million
Cost per American: $0.38
Brings legal action against those who violate pollution-related laws or the Clean Water Act.
UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
U.S. Budget: $10 million
Cost per American: $0.03
Issues reports on climate change and its impact on human populations.
Office of Electricity Deliverability and Energy Reliability
Budget: $262 million
Cost per American: $0.81
Modernizes and secures the electric grid and reports on how to improve energy efficiency.
Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Budget: $2.9 billion
Cost per American: $8.95
Promotes the transition to clean energy