Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts Will Put Civil Rights Protections at Risk

Disguised as a platform geared toward fiscal conservatism and shrinking government, the Trump administration’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year targets the country’s most vulnerable populations by proposing cuts in the federal government’s infrastructure for the protection of civil rights and anti-discrimination. Spanning across key agencies including the Department of Labor, Justice, Education, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency, the proposed budget cuts come at a time when hate crimes have surged and the need for these protections has become greater. 

In order to discuss the scope of this budget’s implications on civil rights protections, AAI held a Congressional Briefing featuring experts in various fields including environmental justice, civil and human rights, LGBTQ rights, and Title IX protections.

The panel included Emily Chatterjee, a senior counsel to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund; Laura Dunn, founder and executive director of SurvJustice; Ian Thompson, a legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union; Maya Berry, executive director of AAI; and Mustafa Santiago Ali, senior vice president of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization at the Hip Hop Caucus. Mustafa Santiago Ali is most recently known for his decision to leave his twenty-four-year career at the Environmental Protection Agency in protest of the Trump Administration’s policies. His resignation letter went viral online.

As argued by panelist Emily Chatterjee “a budget is a moral document” pointing to the fundamental priorities of an administration. Chatterjee noted that the proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year represents a broader assault on human rights, “as part of an expanded effort to revive the War on Drugs, implement voter identification laws, defund Planned Parenthood, enforce the Muslim Ban, rollback transgender protections in schools, severely limit vulnerable communities’ access to healthcare, and from what I believe can only really be called deportation forces.” 

As outlined by Chatterjee and echoed by the other panelists, the proposed budget has a three-pronged approach to dismantling civil rights protections: it makes deep cuts to civil and human rights agencies, it appoints officials who have no experience in or regard for civil or human rights, and it withdraws numerous policies designed to protect against injustice and discrimination.

One key example of the impact of these cuts on civil rights protections would be the proposed merger of the Department of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). The OFCCP enforces anti-discrimination provisions that federal contractors are held accountable to while the EEOC investigates these claims. These two distinct functions underline the fact that the EEOC and OFCCP have distinct policy goals and legal authority. The proposal for the EEOC to absorb to OFCCP with no additional resources is described by Chatterjee as a way to “eliminate a major civil rights office, reducing civil rights enforcement overall.” 

In addition to the impact on funding and enforcement capabilities of civil rights offices, the budget proposal also shows a clear disregard for minority populations in terms of other protections, most notably aspects of environmental justice and Title IX enforcement. Mustafa Santiago Ali spoke to the “devastating effects of the EPA proposals on deconstructing the environmental justice of our most vulnerable communities”

The budget calls for a decrease in EPA spending by 31 percent, from $8.1 billion to $5.7 billion, and an elimination of a quarter of the agency’s 15,000 jobs. The cuts also call for a reduction of existing protections such as, Flint, Michigan’s grants that help monitor the public water system after the lead crisis. 

As Ali mentioned, when areas are impacted by environmental crises, it prevents long term growth, “forcing communities to survive instead of thrive because not having access to clean drinking water or air stunts your ability to do everything…to learn so you can make a living.” 

Similarly, eliminating Title IX protections has a direct impact on the ability of sexual assault survivors to learn and thrive in their school environments. Laura Dunn explained that in addition to ensuring equality of the sexes, Title IX protects against violence and harassment. “The proposed budged slashes positions at a time when we have more violations than ever…right now there are 330 active sexual assault violations in higher education alone.” A survivor of sexual assault herself, Dunn describes schools as “a place of extra silence where the bar is already so low in terms of response to students reporting sexual assault.” 

Title IX also protects transgender rights especially with respect to students’ access to the bathrooms of their gender identity. Ian Thompson argued that in addition to the policy rollbacks and funding cuts to the relevant civil rights offices, an additional problem lies in the individuals placed in these offices. “The people allocated to these civil rights roles have no intention of maintaining protections for vulnerable populations like the LGBTQ community.” Thompson pointed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has a history of being anti-LGBTQ. He also noted that the Trump administration’s policies and many efforts led by Sessions have used religious liberty to conceal discrimination, including the erasure of LGBTQ elders by excluding them from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants (NSOAAP). 

The panelists formed a consensus on the importance of congressional oversight in addressing the ways this budget will impact civil rights agencies and their ability to protect impacted communities. In addition to outlining the importance of Congress in addressing these policy concerns, Thompson encouraged individuals to remain educated about the budget process. “We all have the power to shine a spotlight on the abuses that are being left unanswered.” Ali echoed this sentiment, urging the audience to recognize the importance in responding to the proposed budget by shedding light on its injustices. “You have power and you need to engage.”

List of federal agencies at risk in FY 2018

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