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HUD tenants fear displacement and loss of safety nets

Trump 2019 budget signals further cuts to assisted housing, food stamps & medicare

Karen Morales
HUD tenants fear displacement and loss of safety nets
Protesters demonstrating outside the Tip O’Neill Federal building in downtown Boston.

Public housing tenants and workers from Massachusetts organized a “cease and desist” rally last Friday to speak out against President Donald Trump’s proposed 2019 fiscal year budget, which includes deep cuts to social programs such as subsidized housing, healthcare and food stamps.

The protesters, gathered outside the Tip O’Neill Federal office building, also warned against a Republican draft bill that would require tenants to work up to 32 hours per week to receive housing assistance.

Although the budget needs at least 60 votes in the Senate to pass, the proposal is causing alarm, as it slashes the HUD budget by $6.8 billion, a 14 percent decrease from 2017. It would reduce Section 8 federal housing subsidies by 20 percent and would raise rents for low-income HUD tenants from 30 to 35 percent of gross income.

In addition, Trump wants to cut funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 27.4 percent and cut Medicaid and Medicare subsidies by 22.5 and 7.1 percent, respectively, by 2028.

“When they increase the war budget or cut taxes for rich, they cut programs for the people. It’s a direct relationship,” said Michael Kane, executive director of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants.

The Trump budget increases Department of Homeland Security funding by 12 percent, including setting aside $1.6 billion for the construction of a 65-mile border wall in Texas.

And late last year, House Republicans passed a tax cut bill that significantly decreases taxes for corporations and the very wealthy, and will cost the government $1.46 trillion.

Extreme parallels

Kathleen Burke, a public housing tenant in Salem, said that any further cuts to HUD programs will “affect our most vulnerable — seniors, the disabled, and women with children,” she said.

She said she currently witnesses the struggle her low-income neighbors experience on a daily basis to make ends meet, like her 80-year-old neighbor who is unable to retire because she is not yet eligible to collect life insurance or Medicaid, or others who have to go to the nearby soup kitchen, despite also being on SNAP benefits.

“There’s no reason we can’t all share the pie,” she said.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported in February that HUD spent $31,000 on a new dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office.

Cherai Mills, from the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, said about Carson, “He’s a very ignorant person … he’s supposed to be helping low-income individuals.”

Programs that work

She added, “Most folks who are working, are working multiple jobs just to stay in their apartment, to afford market rent.”

Jessica Turner, co-president of the Clarendon Residents United in Somerville, said that any possible work requirement for HUD tenants would “only hurt us. What does help us is the Family Self-Sufficiency program and the Jobs Plus Initiative program,” she said.

The Family Self-Sufficiency and Jobs Plus Initiative programs aim to assist public housing residents to increase earnings and build financial capability through local job placement, job training, financial literacy and homeownership counseling and have been proven by various independent studies to improve participants’ financial standings.

Linda Katz, president of AFGE Local 3258 labor union, said, “Any hope of making progress toward achieving the goals of HUD’s mission statement is all but eliminated by the proposed budget and changes to HUD programs.”