Cuts to poverty programs are ‘as compassionate as you can get,’ Trump budget chief says

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Thursday that cutting funding to several anti-poverty programs is “one of the most compassionate things we can do.”

Mulvaney took questions at the daily press briefing about the administration’s budget proposals, which call for deep cuts to virtually all federal programs except the military, homeland security and the Veterans Administration.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Mulvaney when asked if the budget was “hard-hearted,” adding, “In fact, I think it’s one of the most compassionate things we can do. … You’re only focusing on half of the equation, you’re only focusing on recipients of the money. We’re trying to focus both on the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place. And I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money any more.’ ‘Single mom of two in Detroit, OK, give us your money.’ We’re not going to do that anymore … unless we can guarantee to you that that money is actually being used in a proper function, and I think that is about as compassionate as you can get.”

Under the current tax plan, a single parent pays a 10 percent federal tax rate, or $1,255 on a $34,000 annual income, after applying the exceptions available. Under Trump’s proposed plan, the rate would increase to 12 percent, and with the reduction of various exceptions, the same single parent would be paying $2,280.

Mulvaney specifically cited Head Start, which runs early-childhood programs including free breakfasts for children from low-income families, as an example of an unjustified expenditure, arguing that there was no proof that children performed better in school when they weren’t hungry.

“They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school,” Mulvaney said in discussing the purpose of Head Start programs. “Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that. No demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, helping kids do better in school, which is what, when we took your money from you, to say, ‘Look, we’re going to go spend it on an after-school program,’ the way we justified it was: ‘These programs are going to help these kids do better in school and get better jobs.’ And we can’t prove that that’s happening.”

The National Educational Association says that missing meals — particularly breakfast — can affect children’s achievement and development. Mulvaney did not address the question of whether it was appropriate for the government to feed hungry children, and whether or not it helps their school performance.

Mulvaney also said that Meals on Wheels, a program that delivers meals to seniors and people with disabilities, was “not showing any results.” A 2013 peer-reviewed analysis of eight studies found, “All but two studies found home-delivered meal programs to significantly improve diet quality, increase nutrient intakes, and reduce food insecurity and nutritional risk among participants. Other beneficial outcomes include increased socialization opportunities, improvement in dietary adherence, and higher quality of life.”

Mulvaney explained that the proposed budget would not directly defund Meals on Wheels, but would instead cut funding to Community Development Block Grants, which go to states and can be used for the program.

“It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which they will not be significantly and negatively impacted if the president’s budget were enacted,” Meals on Wheels spokeswoman Jenny Bertolette told CNN on Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, Mulvaney used the same argument to explain why the proposed budget would cut funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which amounts to approximately $1.35 per American per year. The proposed budget also would provide a $54 billion increase in defense spending.

“When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was: Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?” said Mulvaney on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “The answer was no. We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

The White House budget is essentially a wish list of priorities. It is Congress that finally passes the budget, which often ends up very different from what was proposed by the president — even a president of the same party.

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