Proposed cuts to environmental protection would hurt black moms and kids
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This week, Ivanka Trump launched her listening tour with government officials, reportedly seeking ways to better support mothers and families. Ironically, she planned to start those meetings at the Environmental Protection Agency. Whether she realized it or not, cuts to the agency proposed by her father’s administration could deal a devastating blow to low-income women and their families. And these blows would hit hardest the most vulnerable populations—black women and their children.

The administration’s proposed budget blueprint for fiscal year 2018 proposed slashing funding for environmental cleanup work, including lead remediation efforts. At the same time, it would completely defund the agency’s environmental justice office, which ensures that communities of color receive equal protection under environmental laws.

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Lead emergencies like those in Flint and East Chicago have drawn national attention to the severity of lead problems, and their disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, so it’s chilling to see a budget proposed that would significantly limit the government’s ability to respond to these crises.

 

For children and pregnant women, exposure to lead through sources like paint, dust, soil, and water carries high risk. It can result in lead poisoning, an incredibly dangerous and entirely preventable disease linked to permanent health and developmental problems. It impacts how children learn, their ability to excel in school, and has been directly linked to likelihood of success later in life.

Black children are disproportionately at risk for lead poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they are three times more likely than white children to show seriously elevated blood-lead levels. Failing to recognize the seriousness of this issue means failing to appreciate the seriousness of black maternal health, and to protect black women’s right and ability to raise healthy children

Bafflingly, the administration has also proposed a modest increase to lead poisoning prevention funds directed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At best, it is incoherent to increase funding with one hand while decimating interrelated programs with the other. The Obama administration recognized the link between housing, racial justice and environmental protection; As one of its final accomplishments, the administration formalized a partnership between HUD and EPA to better address this pervasive and unjust danger.

The incoherent policy advanced by the Trump budget at first seems an example of a White House that simply doesn’t know what it’s doing. But even more terrifying is the prospect that it knows exactly what it’s doing.

By calling for the complete elimination of EPA’s environmental justice office, simultaneously with the proposal to cut lead cleanup work, the administration is shielding itself from accountability. Black mothers and children would be disproportionately harmed by these reckless proposals, and they would have no recourse.

Congress recently reached a deal to keep the government funded through the end of the current fiscal year. But to be clear, the administration’s proposed budget was for fiscal year 2018, which means these cuts are still on the table, and Congress will still have to debate the fate of these critical programs in the fall. At that point, congressional leaders will have the opportunity to send a message about maternal health. If Trump attempts to balance the budget at the expense of pregnant black women and their children, no matter how many cuts he proposes, the cost will be too high.

Maya Rupert is senior director for policy at the Center for Reproductive Rights. She is a Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.


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