Report shows how Trump's budget would hit low-income housing programs in Nevada

A new analysis of President Donald Trump’s budget shows Nevada stands to lose more than 1,300 vouchers that help poor residents pay rent and at least $39 million in block grant funds used for community improvement projects.

The report, prepared by Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s office, breaks down the potential impacts of the $7.5 billion cut the Republican president is proposing to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Trump released a “skinny budget” summary last week that calls for a 15 percent reduction in HUD, although his office and Congress are expected to do much more work on their proposal ahead of the new fiscal year in October.

The blueprint comes as Nevada already suffers a shortage of about 85,000 affordable housing units, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. For every 100 very low-income Nevadans who seek housing, only 39 affordable units are on the market.

Cuts would especially hit older Nevadans, families with children and people with disabilities, who use HUD services at higher rates than the general population.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that if the President’s budget cuts are enacted, homelessness will likely increase,” the report said.

Among the proposal’s impacts, according to the report:

  • The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program would be eliminated. Nevada received almost $20 million last year from the program, which supported a wide variety of projects including housing for the homeless in Lyon County, eliminating blighted structures in the towns of Hawthorne and Mina, and buying a minivan to take Nye County seniors to out-of-town doctor’s appointments.
  • Hundreds of lost Housing Choice Vouchers that subsidize rent. Nevadans received 14,500 vouchers last year, but that would be reduced by 1,377 under Trump’s plan.
  • A reduction in funding that supports more than 3,600 public housing units in Nevada. The state got $21 million in the most recent fiscal year, but would lose $6.3 million under Trump’s budget.
  • Complete elimination of the HOME program, which helps municipalities construct new senior and family housing and offers homebuyer assistance. Nevada received $8.9 million in HOME money last fiscal year and would get none under the budget proposal.
  • Native American housing program cut by 23 percent. If that reduction is extrapolated across all grantees in the state, Nevada tribes would lose $3.5 million.
  • Elimination of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, an entity that coordinates anti-homelessness efforts. The council coordinates 16 separate federal agencies, including HUD, the Department of Veterans Affairs and others – to ensure they’re working together to end homelessness. Federal officials declared in 2015 that veteran homelessness was effectively ended in Southern Nevada; USICH is credited with bringing that to pass.

The sharp cuts to safety-net programs indicate the Trump administration wants to severely limit — or perhaps eliminate — the federal government’s role in communities, said Mike PeQueen, managing director of HighTower Las Vegas, a local investment firm that closely watches the economy.

“That’s a remarkable departure from both previous Democratic and Republican administrations,” said PeQueen, who said he is a registered nonpartisan. “George W. Bush didn’t do anything like this.”

Trump has proposed hiking defense funding by $54 billion in 2018, meaning the administration must find other places within the discretionary spending portion of the budget to make cuts, PeQueen said. That leaves departments such as agriculture, urban development, transportation, health and human services, and education, among others, on the chopping block.

What worries him from a community standpoint: Eliminating funding for housing vouchers and Community Development Block Grants essentially places the burden on nonprofits that serve vulnerable populations.

“I just don’t know if they’re prepared for it or have the resources for it,” he said.

It’s a fear shared by Deacon Tom Roberts of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. The nonprofit expected the new administration to trim spending related to social services, but the magnitude of the proposed cuts would cripple its ability to serve those in need, he said.

About two-thirds of Catholic Charities’ revenue comes from various local, state and federal grants.

“Charities have always tried to fill in the gaps because people are generous,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s any way charities can make up the difference for these type of grants.”

The nonprofit, which serves more than 100,000 people each year, can’t handle a huge influx of clients. While the state’s economy largely has rebounded from the recession, the agency has seen an increase in demand for food and shelter, Roberts said. That’s because as costs of living have climbed, community members at the lowest end of the economic totem pole can’t make ends meet, so paying rent takes priority over buying food.

“The net is already full,” he said. “The net will explode.”

The White House’s proposed funding cuts to Meals On Wheels has garnered significant public outcry in recent weeks. Roberts said it’s unclear whether Nevada’s federal funding for the program would be slashed. Gov. Brian Sandoval has pledged an additional $1.5 million toward the program, which feeds homebound seniors, in his budget.

Unlike some cities that use Community Development Block Grants to fund the food program, Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services receives federal funding through the Older Americans Act, he said. The department then funnels those dollars to providers in each county.

Catholic Charities operates Meals On Wheels in Southern Nevada, serving roughly 2,100 seniors every day, Roberts said. Another 900 seniors remain on a waiting list for the program.

“If we were to receive any draconian cuts, we simply would not be able to provide those services,” he said.

Roberts said Catholic Charities has been fielding calls from concerned clients wanting to know what would happen if the program doesn’t receive federal funding. It pains him to give them so much uncertainty.

“The fear factor of this administration when it comes to budget cuts — it’s really disheartening for those that we serve,” he said.

Roberts said he spent last week in Carson City describing the importance of these programs to state lawmakers. He’s headed to the nation’s capital next week to do the same.

The report from Cortez Masto’s office elicited a strong response from at least one Democratic state lawmaker.

"The White House's plan to cut spending from the likes of the Housing Urban Development subsidies and Meals on Wheels will be disastrous not just for our state but for our country," Democratic Assemblyman Nelson Araujo said in a statement. “Making cuts like these aren't governing or putting hard working Nevadans first, it's putting the top 1 percent over the other 99 percent. I strongly encourage all members of our delegation to oppose these cuts."

Disclosure:  Mike PeQueen, a partner at HighTower Las Vegas, holds a seat on the five-member board of The Nevada Independent. HighTower Las Vegas is also a client of E Thompson Media, a communications and public relations consulting firm owned by the managing editor of The Nevada Independent, Elizabeth Thompson.

Photo caption: “White House” by frankieleon is licensed under Creative Commons by 2.0.