Trump budget may hurt Scotland County programs

By: By Amber Hatten -

LAURINBURG — President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal would put several domestic programs on the chopping block, including many that benefit Scotland County.

Last month, the president proposed cutting a total of $54 billion in federal spending that would affect a wide swath of programs including the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, Meals on Wheels, national parks and the IRS.

The plan would eliminate completely the Appalachian Regional Commission, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Humanities, Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Endowment for the Arts and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

At the same time, the $1.15 trillion spending plan for the 2018 fiscal year that begins Oct 1. would provide significant increases for the military and border security.

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, who represents Scotland County in Congress, has said Trump’s budget plan upholds a campaign promise to make defense spending a priority, shrink government and cut “wasteful spending.”

But some critics say the budget is too drastic and the new president will be hard pressed to get his deep cuts in discretionary spending pass Congress.

Among the programs targeted for elimination is the Community Services Block Grant, an anti-poverty grant program that receives $715 million in federal funds and falls under the Department of Health and Human Services.

Community Services Block Grant provides federal funding for programs like Southeastern Community & Family Services, Inc., an organization with offices in Laurinburg that provides Head Start programs, housing assistance and employment assistance to low-income families in Scotland, Robeson, Hoke and Richmond counties.

“Specifically it would impact our Community Services Block Grant and if that program is cut it impacts all our programs,” said Ericka Whitaker, CEO of Southeastern Community & Family Services, Inc. “We are not just giving people money so they can pay their bills. We are trying to help people get off those government programs and learn how to support themselves.”

Southeastern Community & Family Services provides job training, education support, emergency assistance along with partnering with The University of North Carolina at Pembroke to provide financial literacy workshops.In total the agency is currently assisting 325 individuals in seven counties, 17 of those individuals are in Scotland County. If the agency loses the Community Services Block Grant money it wouldn’t just be programs that would be eliminated.

In total the agency is currently assisting 325 individuals in seven counties, 17 of those individuals are in Scotland County.

“We received $1.6 million for our programs in the seven counties we serve from the CSBG,” said Whitaker. “If we lose that money we would not only lose programs, but also clients and about 20 employees.”

Whitaker said her agency is working with the NC Community Action Association in Raleigh to make sure the state’s political leaders know how important these programs are and that it would be a mistake to cut funding.

Also taking a huge hit under the president’s plan would be the Department of Education. It would lose $9.2 billion under a plan to eliminate or reduce 20 programs including after-school and summer programs, teacher training, aid programs for low-income students and work-study aid for college students.

Scotland County Schools, with board of education approval, is currently participating in the Community Eligibility Provision. This is the second year the school district participated in the program, which is part of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. The overall purpose is to improve access to nutritional meals for all students by providing breakfast and lunch “at no cost” to them.

“The community eligibility program, and for that matter any program that offers food to the hungry, is vitally important to the success of our students,” said Meredith Bounds, public information officer for Scotland County Schools. “We all are aware that students perform better academically when they are not hungry.

Bounds added that for many students, the only and possibly healthiest meal they receive during the day is at school.

“So for a program like the community eligibility program to be cut or lessened could have devastating financial affects on our students’ families as well as directly impact our students’ success,” she said.

Before the school district was offered an opportunity to take part in the Community Eligibility Provision, around 62 percent of students received free lunches, according to data compiled by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for the 2015-16 school year.

Of the 5,818 students that attended Scotland County Schools during that school year, 3,617 received free lunches with Scotland County High School having the largest number of students with 780.

The income eligibility for a family of five to receive free lunches through the schools is $36,972 annually; and to receive reduced lunches that amount increases to $52,614, according to DPI.

The budget proposal would also impact poor families and the elderly in Scotland County who could see energy assistance program funding — that helps pay heating and power bills — cut. That program along with child protective services, child care and community health are all provided by Scotland County Department of Social Services.

Still observers of Congress said Trump’s plan would have a difficult time getting a greenlight as proposed. It has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats because of the impact it would have on districts back home. And any presidential budget sent to Congress is a mere suggestion. The House and the Senate have the final word.

Scotland County Democratic Party Chairman Walter Jackson said Congress should ignore the president budget priorities.

Jackson called the plan “bad news for North Carolina’s middle-class,”

“The Appalachian Regional Commission will be scrapped altogether. This is a program in the last year alone has leveraged public-private partnerships into more than $42 million in investments, has created 1,200 jobs and educated 1,400 students, all in some of the poorest parts of our state.”

Jackson said the key, in his opinion, to seeing North Carolina succeed is making investments in modern infrastructure, good schools and strong neighborhoods.

“President Trump is going to hurt our economy by making drastic and unneeded cuts to programs that have proven to be effective in building a smarter and stronger economy,” Jackson said.

Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.

Scott Witten | Laurinburg Exchange Southeastern Community & Family Services, Inc. has three Head Start facilities in the Scotland County area, this one in Maxton, a center in Laurel Hill and one in Laurinburg. Witten | Laurinburg Exchange Southeastern Community & Family Services, Inc. has three Head Start facilities in the Scotland County area, this one in Maxton, a center in Laurel Hill and one in Laurinburg.

By Amber Hatten