Proposed funding cuts to cities the president deemed “anarchist” because of ongoing protests would impact newborn screenings, addiction recovery, and mental health counseling.
Newborns, the unhoused, and people in recovery are among those who will be impacted in President Donald Trump’s latest political battle against four Democratic-led cities he deemed “anarchist jurisdictions.”
New York City, Portland, Washington, DC, and Seattle could lose millions in federal grants that cover health programs for their most vulnerable populations. The president is upping the ante against these cities, which are Democratic strongholds that often refused his calls to respond with extreme violence to the summer’s racial justice protests.
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In a Sept. 2 executive order, Trump demanded that federal agencies find ways to cut back on funding to cities that “disempower” police departments and promote “lawlessness.” Attorney General William Barr developed the list of cities that “refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract these criminal activities,” and Russell Vought, the White House budget director, was tasked with issuing guidance on ways the federal government could restrict funding to these “anarchist jurisdictions.”
“My administration will not allow federal tax dollars to fund cities that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones,” the memo reads. “It is imperative that the federal government review the use of federal funds by jurisdictions that permit anarchy, violence, and destruction in America’s cities.”
Several legal scholars told The Guardian in September that the memo is unlikely to result in any significant funding cuts targeting specific cities.
“The president obviously has no power to pick and choose which cities to cut off from congressionally appropriated funding,” said Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law scholar at Harvard. Trump “has no defunding spigot. The power of the purse belongs to Congress, not the Executive. Donald Trump must have slept through high school civics.”
However, according to Politico, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has already provided a list of 1,500-plus funding awards for health services to be cut amidst a pandemic that has cost over 220,000 American lives. The list includes funding for programs that battle HIV transmission, research lung diseases, provide hearing screenings for newborns in the District of Columbia, cover housing for people in addiction recovery in Seattle, and give nutrition and mental health counseling to elderly New Yorkers.
“There’s no extra money lying around, and this is not a time to be playing politics with people’s health,” Chrissie Juliano, executive director of the Big Cities Health Coalition, told Politico.
The deadline is Friday for other federal departments to submit their own lists. The Office of Management and Budget will hand down the final decisions about funding. In addition to cutting existing funds, the budget office will determine whether these cities can be barred from receiving new federal cash.
A few of the grants on the HHS list could be exempt from the cuts—those which support law enforcement activities, according to a Sept. 21 memo from OMB Director Russ Vought. “[S]uch programs and activities, when properly designed and implemented, can help prevent the deterioration of municipalities into lawless zones,” Vought wrote. HHS found that six of the 185 programs met that criteria.
New York City, Seattle, and officials from the United States Conference of Mayors are already planning legal action if the White House administration blocks this funding.
“We strongly urge you to immediately rescind the Memorandum and halt the process of attempting to defund critical city services,” the Conference of Mayors urged in a Sept. 8 letter. “If your Memorandum were to be implemented – slashing resources for police, firefighters, and other first responders along with a range of other essential services to residents – the result would be American cities that are much less safe.”
“This is nothing more than political retribution,” said Laura Feyer, a spokesperson for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.