Philadelphia News & Search
The spending bill that Congress hashed out during the weekend could have meant big and immediate cuts for Philadelphia. But city officials said Monday that they had dodged a bullet, at least for the next five months.
The community-development grants President Trump wanted to cut in half would not be cut. The National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, which stood to lose $15 million each this year, would get an extra $2 million. The National Institute for Health, which sends hundreds of millions a year in medical research funding to Philadelphia, received a $2 billion bump instead of the $1.2 billion in cuts the administration had proposed.
And, despite the administration’s threats to defund “sanctuary cities” such as Philadelphia, the bill congressional negotiators worked out Sunday night includes no such provision. Nor does it include cash for a border wall, Trump’s signature campaign promise, and one he vowed at a Saturday rally in Harrisburg would be completed.
“I’m hoping this reflects a more reasonable conversation,” City Council President Darrell L. Clarke said, adding that the new version was “not as draconian.”
The spending bill, expected to be voted on this week, would keep the government running until Sept. 30, when the government’s fiscal year ends. Trump’s dramatic budget outline for fiscal year 2018 – which proposes deep cuts to nearly every governmental agency except the Defense Department – has yet to be debated in Congress.
In March, when he released his budget priorities for 2018, Trump asked Congress for a $30 billion increase in defense spending through the end of the current fiscal year – plus $2 billion for his border wall – and recommended $18 billion in cuts to offset the spending rise.
He did not say publicly where those cuts should come from, but his administration privately circulated a list of suggestions in Congress. That list, later obtained by Politico, called for a slew of cuts, including to programs that fund several city initiatives.
Programs on the chopping block included the Community Development Block Grant Program, which pays for programs such as those for foreclosure assistance, home repair for low-income homeowners, and small-business development in Philadelphia, to the tune of $39 million this year. The list suggested defunding the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, which would help pay for a revitalization effort in North Philadelphia. It also would have slashed the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by $247 million.
Congress instead increased nondefense spending and called for funding only half of Trump’s defense spending request. Some agencies would experience less drastic cuts. For the EPA, the proposed $81 million reduction would mean just a 1 percent funding cut. Choice Neighborhoods would receive a $12.5 million increase in funding. CDBG, which stood to lose half its funding, was kept at its current funding level.
Mayor Kenney’s office said the budget missed “opportunities for key investment,” including in infrastructure and assistance for the working poor. But “given how dire the original reports were, we are somewhat relieved,” the mayor’s spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said in a statement.
“A bullet was indeed dodged with this agreement,” said Susan Phillips, Penn Medicine’s senior vice president for public affairs. Penn received nearly $400 million in NIH grants in 2016.
Still, city officials said they were looking to 2018’s budget, for which Trump has proposed far more drastic reductions — cutting the entire Community Development Block Grant program, for example, and defunding the NEA and the NEH.
“The reality is that sometimes people make interim deals in anticipation of a fight at a later time,” Clarke said. “I think that we should continue to be vigilant and voice our concerns. I think it’s clear elected officials have listened.”
Philadelphia News & Search