Trump’s fiscal plan draws widespread criticism in Hawaii

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Hawaii Island’s low-income, elderly population could be hit particularly hard under President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, which would deeply cut a federal food assistance program throughout the next decade as well as other “safety net” programs for low-income people.

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Hawaii Island’s low-income, elderly population could be hit particularly hard under President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, which would deeply cut a federal food assistance program throughout the next decade as well as other “safety net” programs for low-income people.

That’s according to island-based assistance programs that administer services for seniors and low-income residents.

Trump’s plan, unveiled Tuesday, would cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan, formerly known as food stamps, by about $192 billion, partly by imposing a work requirement for recipients considered capable of working.

In February, 44,536 of Hawaii’s 169,319 SNAP recipients resided on the Big Island. Nationally, about two-thirds of SNAP recipients in fiscal year 2015 were children, elderly or had disabilities.

“A straight up, across-the-board cut would definitely reduce the number of people on our rolls,” said En Young, executive director of the Food Basket, Hawaii Island’s food bank. “If that’s their goal, then that would be pretty successful. But part of the Trump rhetoric has been around getting people back to work — a lot of his economic projections rely on the fact that millions of people would be getting back into jobs. I think we’re all on board with people having the dignity of work, but the truth is, a lot of people on this island who receive SNAP are elderly seniors who are not going back to work.”

SNAP recipient Dao Nguyen, a Hilo resident, isn’t elderly. But he said he still worried when he heard about the proposed cuts, particularly for “families who rely on food stamps.” He said he started using SNAP benefits last year because he struggled finding work after moving to the island. He said he’s received about $315 per month in assistance, which sometimes “doesn’t even last the whole month.”

“It will last maybe three weeks,” Nguyen said. “And that’s just buying groceries on the cheap — the bargain brand, not the top-shelf salsa or the best bread or meat. So you can imagine, without (SNAP), it’d just be really hard. Or I’d just have to eat less.”

Trump’s plan also would eliminate $610 billion from Medicaid, a federal health care program that serves about 348,000 low-income Hawaii residents. It also would make about $72 billion in cuts to Social Security’s disability program, which serves more than 19,000 people statewide.

It also slashes funding to the Meals on Wheels program — which brings meals to home-bound seniors — and other assistance programs such as the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program and a program that trains seniors to get re-employed.

“Meals on Wheels would be a huge blow,” Kimo Alameda, executive on aging for the Hawaii County Office of Aging, said Tuesday, adding though the budget doesn’t cut Medicare, many Hawaii County seniors also rely on Medicaid.

“We’re concerned about the safety net for the most vulnerable in our community and our seniors,” he said. “Particularly poor seniors, and the poor disabled seniors who maybe speak English as a second language.

“For me, the barometer of a great community is how well we treat the most vulnerable. It’s how well we treat those in need. And this proposed budget doesn’t seem like we’ll be treating them much better, so that’s the concern.”

Hawaii’s delegation in Washington, D.C., also denounced Trump’s budget Tuesday.

In a speech on the House floor, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard called the plan “damaging to the people in our communities and the places that we call home.”

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono similarly criticized it as “dangerous and devastating” and said in a news release she will “fight tooth and nail in opposition.”

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz also called the plan “cruel” and “dead on arrival.”

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The budget also would eliminate multiple Native Hawaiian programs, a University of Hawaii Sea Grant College program and a program that helps fund affordable housing and anti-poverty projects, among others.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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