Budget Cuts Would Trickle Down

From Retreat to speech therapy, towns, nonprofits look ahead with anxiety
Loretta Davis, the Retreat's executive director, said the Retreat stands to lose about $1 million if President Trump's budget cuts are approved. Durell Godfrey

The Retreat, which runs an East Hampton shelter and numerous programs for the victims of domestic violence, could have half its annual funding disappear if proposals in the White House’s recently submitted budget are approved by Congress.

In the East Hampton School District, administrators have begun to worry about a potential loss of $900,000 in federal funding.

And the elimination of funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington, D.C., could cut access to a research database used across Suffolk County and throw educational and arts-grant processes into disarray by removing money that pays salaries for staff at the New York State Education Department.

The Trump administration’s partial outline of a so-called “skinny budget” suggests that billions of dollars from an array of government agencies be cut to help offset a $54 million increase in spending for the military and the Homeland Security Department. Two of the biggest cuts in the $1.15 trillion plan come at the expense of the Environmental Protection Agency and foreign aid. But many of the more modest programs that would be axed operate in small communities throughout America, with repercussions felt from Montauk to Modesto.

Some of the smaller agencies that could be eliminated are the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Legal Services Corporation, which finances lawyers for those unable to afford them. Environmental and state agencies would suffer the harshest blows, in percentage terms.

“It’s approximately $1 million we’re taking about, and we’re extremely worried what will happen in the next year to 18 months,” said Loretta Davis, the Retreat’s executive director.

According to Ms. Davis, that $1 million in federal money covers more than 10 salaries, including that of a supervisor, and professional development.

“We have been notified by Steve Bellone, at the Suffolk County executive office, that there will certainly be cuts we will need to deal with,” Ms. Davis said. The Retreat has already reached out to its biggest private donors in the hope that they might increase contributions.

“Otherwise,” Ms. Davis said, “it’s potentially a loss of jobs as well as some vital programs.” One of those to go would be the Fatherhood Initiative Program, which helps young fathers build healthy relationships through career counseling and financial planning. “This is a prevention program, and if the reoccurring grant we receive goes away, how do we continue to offer help to these young men who are often teenagers?” The Retreat was the only organization in Suffolk County to receive this grant, derived from federal funding.

“The greatness of any country can be measured by the value it places on the health, education, and welfare of its peo ple as well as the protection and use of its natural resources,” East Hampton Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said in an email. “The loss of federal funding endangers critical programs for children, their working parents, seniors, and the environment. We can do better.”

In the school district, Richard Burns, East Hampton’s superintendent, echoed Mr. Van Scoyoc’s concern. “If this plan goes through, it’s the kids who most need the money who will suffer. It’s always the little people,” said Mr. Burns, decrying the impact this budget would have on his schools. “We receive approximately $900,000 a year for three title grants that will be eliminated.”

Title I is for special-education students, particularly for pre-referral programs, explained Mr. Burns, to help kids with reading, writing, and speech. Title II is for professional development for teachers to be trained for state-mandated programs such as the prevention of bullying, said Mr. Burns, adding, “and that’s the irony, these are state-mandated efforts but we will have to find the money to cover them elsewhere.” Title III is officially known as the English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act; it provides extra help for “English language learners,” as well as professional development programs and after-school enrichment initiatives.

“I really don’t know how we will fund these programs if the money goes away,” said Mr. Burns, “It’s extremely worrying.”

Another blow could be felt by library patrons. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is one of the four cultural agencies to be eliminated in the president’s proposed plan. One important online system, the New York Virtual Electronic Library, is entirely funded by the library institute.

It would cost the county library system approximately $700,000 a year if it had to pay for its share of the program itself, according to Dennis Fabiszak, the director of the East Hampton Library.

The virtual library provides students and East Hampton’s 13,000-plus library card holders with research capabilities, including access to The New York Times archives from 1995 to the present, Mr. Fabizack said.

“We’ve saved millions of dollars over the years by having this database — the research is readily available to everyone — that it would be a huge loss,” said Mr. Fabiszak. A loss of personnel and services, including reading programs, he said, would be necessary as the trickle-down effect kicked in, from the federal level to state to town. “It’s such a tiny portion of the federal budget,” said Mr. Fabiszak, “and yet its effects on this community would be huge.”

Health care has been been a focus for the Trump administration, and Sheila Rogers, the director of the East Hampton Healthcare Center on Pantigo Road in East Hampton, is relieved that the Affordable Care Act is still intact.

“We’re okay for now,” said Ms. Rogers, who has been at the center’s helm since it opened in 1992. “We service a large number of residents in the community who are undocumented with no access to insurance, or those who have, for a variety of reasons, let their insurance lapse, as well as seniors, and low or no-income families, so thank goodness they still have health care.”

The health care center is entirely privately funded — “We have some very generous donors,” Ms. Rogers said — and therefore will not be directly affected by the proposed budget cuts. However, she said, other health care programs in the area are vulnerable, and these services are often intertwined. She pointed to the example of the Hudson River Healthcare program, funded entirely by federal grants and slated to be cut; it was originally set up to provide free health care to migrant farm workers, and there is a branch at Southampton Hospital that provides care to hundreds of undocumented workers. That center would be shut down under the proposed plan.

The budget blueprint also proposes the elimination of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program. That is not good news for Tom Ruhle, the director of the East Hampton Town Housing and Community Development office. The department receives $104,400 a year from the federally funded Community Development Block Grant, which helps it maintain and repair affordable-housing residences, such as the rental units at Whalebone Village. These block grants also assist nonprofit organizations like the Retreat with repairs, installing wheel-chair accessible entrances, for instance. Block grant money paid for a roof over a playground in Montauk.

“This money will simply not be there next year,” said Mr. Ruhle, “because the program is in the plan to be shut down completely.”

Funding could also disappear from the department’s Rental Assistance Program, which helps place low income families in housing.

“Everything will be tighter,” said Ms. Ruhle. “including a program called HOME, which helps struggling families put a down payment on homes.”

Much noise has been made on social media about the impact of the proposed budget on Meals on Wheels. The East Hampton division of Meals on Wheels, which provides 600 meals per week to both senior citizens and disabled younger residents, is entirely funded through private donations, said Frank Eipper, its director. However, he worries that donors might switch gears, feeling the urgency of giving to other defunded causes, such as Planned Parenthood, instead.

And, again, there is the trickle-down question. East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said that last year the town donated $10,000 to East Hampton Meals on Wheels after it was reported that the numbers of people seeking assistance had increased and that the organization could not feed everyone. The town stepped in and supported the group with an annual grant, which Mr. Cantwell said would be eliminated if the block grant cut goes through.

Another area that remains largely intact for now, due to funding that is primarily from private contributions, is the East End arts scene — museums and theaters. Despite the proposed elimination of organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts, most local arts institutions would not feel a direct impact. However, Tracy Mitchell, the executive director of Bay Street Theater, said, “We recently applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, but now I think I’ll move it from the hopeful pile to the forget-it pile.”

Mr. Cantwell remains optimistic that the White House budget will not come to pass, calling the probability of its being adopted slim.