President Donald J. Trump will deliver his first State of the Union Address tomorrow, a touchstone from which to evaluate his first year in office. There is certainly a lot to talk about — what with all the scandals, palace intrigue, and alarming and often confounding Twitter tirades.
But what about the tens of millions of Americans living in or on the brink of poverty? What is the state of the union for them? How have they fared under the first year of a Trump administration?
The Trump administration and congressional allies conspired to pass a tax agenda that will shower large corporations and ultra-wealthy households with lavish giveaways, while eventually raising taxes on millions of low- and moderate- income families.
They have succeeded at chipping away at some of the historic health progress produced by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), by sabotaging enrollment efforts, repealing the individual mandate, and encouraging state governments to deny struggling men and women access to Medicaid coverage through pointless and costly red tape dressed up as “work requirements.”
They allowed funding to lapse for three other vital health programs — the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), federal Home Visiting, and community health centers — leaving the physical and financial wellbeing of tens of millions of low-income people in a lurch for months.
The Trump administration has advanced an anti-immigrant agenda tinged with xenophobia, including ramping up deportation efforts and rescinding protection afforded to some 800,000 Dreamers, which also serves to block upward mobility for many families and communities.
They have retreated from key civil rights enforcement and using the law as intended to guarantee fair opportunity to minority populations in poverty, including stalling efforts to finally address residential segregation, while halting bipartisan momentum to make our criminal justice system more fair and less punitive.
They have launched an assault on protections for low-wage workers and tried to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) — an Obama-era agency created to protect everyday consumers from financial abuses like payday lending.
And most recently, they forced a government shutdown by holding hostage both Dreamers and the some 9 million low-income children who receive health insurance through CHIP.
Put briefly, the Trump administration and congressional allies have threatened the financial wellbeing of tens of millions of people in or near poverty, torn families apart, and ultimately weakened our country’s commitment to equal opportunity for all. The heaviest burden has fallen on people of color and immigrant communities, reflecting our country’s long history of structural racism and discrimination, as well as the administration’s general animus towards racial and ethnic minorities.
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And 2018 could be worse still.
Some in Congress, including House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE, have signaled that they will use the massive fiscal shortfalls created by their tax plan to justify slashing anti-poverty programs, including SNAP (formerly food stamps), Medicaid, and housing assistance, among others. Meanwhile, it is rumored that the Trump administration is gearing up to unleash even more administrative attacks on these programs under the guise of “welfare reform”—a racially-coded euphemism used to mask otherwise unpopular cuts.
Further damage, though, is not inevitable.
In 2017, we saw successful pushback to a central legislative priority of the Trump administration — full repeal of the ACA and total decimation of Medicaid — that would have been devastating for millions of people living in or near poverty. To be sure, advocacy inside the Beltway was vital, but just as important was the work done “back home” at the state and local level to pressure governors, health providers, and other key stakeholders to come out against this destructive agenda.
Moving forward, state and local advocacy will be just as crucial to ensuring that federal spending on anti-poverty programs is not gutted, and that state governments do not accept the Trump administration’s invitation to apply for harmful waivers that restrict eligibility for vital basic needs assistance, as a few already have.
The federal government has a key role to play in fighting poverty and promoting upward mobility. In their first year of governance, the Trump administration has fought hard to drastically roll back the programs and policies that do just that.
In 2018, they should choose a different path. Otherwise, anti-poverty and racial equity advocates around the country must be ready to hold the line — lest the state of the union be much worse for people in poverty in 2019, and beyond.
John Bouman is the president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.