By Lisa Cirincione, Joining Vision and Action
Summary: A lively discussion and presentation about how President Trump’s proposed federal budget may impact projects undertaken by the City and County of Denver, environmental nonprofits, immigration rights advocates and healthcare providers.
Conversations that Matter
On August 9, Joining Vision and Action hosted a panel of changemakers working in the fields of city government, environmental protection, immigration advocacy and healthcare for vulnerable populations. The panel included:
- Micha Rosenoer, Managing Director for Conservation Colorado
- Emily Hauber, Deputy Legislative Director for the Mayor’s Office of the City and County of Denver
- Laura Gerard, Senior Consultant at John Snow, Inc.
- Victor Galvan, Director of Membership for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition
Robin Arnett of the Blue Bench moderated the panelists. I was so happy to have been there to learn from these on-the-ground experts and I’m going to summarize here some of the key points that I heard.
An overarching take away from the panel was that the federal spending budget ends on September 30 and it is expected that Congress will pass another continuing resolution since Congress has been derailed trying to pass a healthcare bill. It also has to address the debt ceiling before it tackles the budget. This means that federal agencies will remain in “wait and see” mode until a final spending bill is signed by President Donald Trump.
Once Congress does begin the hard work of developing a new budget, the City and County of Denver is optimistic that the proposed cuts will not be as deep as feared because the Senate’s proposed spending bill has fewer cuts to nondefense, discretionary programs than the House’s bill. I’m going to cross my fingers that that is how it plays out, especially since TABOR does not allow Colorado to keep surplus revenue in a given year and limits the state’s ability to raise taxes. This leaves Colorado without a reserve cushion to better absorb any cuts in federal funding. Because of this, Colorado will feel federal cuts more acutely than other states.
Now let’s get down to the expected impact of the proposed federal budget in the fields represented by the panel.
The budget that President Trump proposed reflects anti-environmentalist principals, such as cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget by one-third. The individuals that Trump appointed to lead the Department of Interior, EPA and Department of Energy are also concerning because of their past antagonistic attitudes regarding protecting the environment. With these individuals at the helm, environmental groups fear that they will refuse to enforce the existing environmental regulations. Dollars for researching climate change are expected to be cut nearly entirely, and programs that help the environment, e.g., Energy Star, Superfund cleanup and wildfire management, are expected to be dramatically cut—all of which will hurt Colorado.
On a positive note, Conservation Colorado is fighting at both the national and local level to advocate against these proposed cuts. And Colorado will continue to be a national leader in environmental protections. Our state has considerable influence among other states. For example, our investments in renewable energy, methane reduction, wind energy and public lands protections are excellent examples of what states can do, even without federal support.
As long as we are operating under continuing resolutions, it is difficult for the city to do its work because of its reliance on federal funding to share in the costs of major, infrastructure projects. As all of us who drive in the city know Denver has significant infrastructure needs, but city leaders are hesitant to start new projects out of concern that federal funds will not be available. Because of this, they are considering asking voters to approve a new bond for infrastructure projects in November.
Denver officials will continue to stand by their value of making the city a welcoming place for all and is not concerned that it will be labeled a sanctuary city, which has no legal definition. Denver’s law enforcement agencies will continue to maintain public safety but will not act as proxy federal agents.
Currently, Colorado has 1.4 million individuals enrolled in Medicaid (known as Health First Colorado)—one out of every four Coloradans, many of whom are disabled elderly. Because the majority of funding for Medicaid comes from the federal government, cuts to this program will have devastating implications for a quarter of Coloradans. Sadly, the House’s draft spending budget includes $1.5 million in cuts to Medicaid. Experts anticipate that Congress will take one of two actions to reduce the Medicaid budget: 1) move to a per capita allotment, aka block grants (funding set to a fixed level based on 2016 enrollment); or 2) increase the eligibility requirements, e.g., take away the expansion to bring it back to 100% poverty level. Colorado expanded eligibility to 133% of the poverty level under the Affordable Care Act. In addition, President Trump has stated that he wants Congress to eliminate the cost sharing reduction for Medicaid, which are discounts on copays and deductibles—making it harder for people on Medicaid to access care. Health policy experts predict that by 2026, Colorado will receive about a $1 billion less in federal funding for Medicaid.
On a positive note, experts are seeing interest in developing a bipartisan bill to improve the Affordable Care Act.
President Trump has proposed increasing the Department of Homeland Security’s budget by 7%, spending $1.6 billion to build a wall on the southern border and hiring more border control and customs enforcement agents. He would also like Congress to approve more funding for detention, transportation and removal of undocumented individuals.
So are you concerned about the federal budget? If so, make your voice heard. Call your representatives, especially Cory Gardner, who is on the committee that has more control over budget. Leverage the power of the media by showing up at protests and calling your representatives out if their vote doesn’t reflect your values. And don’t forget to choose your words carefully. Use language that your audience will hear. For example, how protecting renewable energy research will lead to job creation or how clean air and water are vital to the success of Colorado’s agricultural industry.
Did you miss this event?
We have other #conversationsthatmatter events on the second Wednesday of every month. Read more about them here!