Trump Budget Proposal Creates Uncertainty for Resilience Officers in US Cities

When the Trump administration unveiled its official $4.1 trillion budget recently, it was greeted with a variety of responses, from concern to admiration, with views generally following party lines. For some chief resilience officers in US cities, however, it prompted concerns about the federal government’s support for their efforts and apprehension about being tasked to do the same work with fewer resources.

“There’s kind of no ground here where you can pivot and say ‘this looks really good for cities,’” Greg Guibert, who serves as Boulder, Colorado’s Chief Resilience officer, said in a phone interview this week.

Ticking off proposed cuts to federal agencies and programs, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development programs, and federal research laboratories, some with facilities in the Boulder region, Guibert said he couldn’t find many positive ways to view the plan.

“We know that, as you say, it’s a negotiating tactic, and some of it will kind of work out in the Congress, but even so, it’s a very aggressive starting point,” he said.

Funding cuts to scientific agencies were of particular concern to Guibert, who cites the possibility of climatic events like wildfires, droughts and flooding occurring in the region. He said that the prospect of cuts to area research laboratories could entail a so-called “double bullseye” for the area — a loss of local jobs and fewer researchers to study the climatic forces that could impact the community.

Possible cuts to coastal research and conservation programs also bother Josh Stanbro, Chief Resilience Officer for the City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii.

Stanbro said his community relies on the US Sea Grant Program (a five-decade-old program that monitors the nation’s coasts, Great Lakes and marine environments) to help track high tides and infrastructure impacts along Oahu’s coastline. Under the Trump budget proposal, the $73 million program would be entirely eliminated.

The budget proposal “creates a great deal of uncertainty around planning for the year ahead,” Stanbro said. “(W)e’re hoping for changes to the federal budget but the reality is the work has to go on regardless, even if it’s with limited state and local resources.”

The ways federal resources can reach cities to help with resilience efforts is wide and varied.

Some aid comes in the form of federal agencies collecting and distributing data. Other support comes in the form of funding, such as with infrastructure programs and social services. Other aid reaches communities through federal insurance, such as in flood zones, or in direct assistance, like after a natural disaster.

Proposed cuts to ongoing social and housing related programs were widely reported about in the days following the budget’s release.

The Community Development Block Grant Program, a $3 billion endeavor, faces total elimination. In a document released before the formal budget, the administration described the program as “not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.”

Cities have used the program for over four decades in their efforts to provide affordable housing, parks and other services to communities.

“These initiatives have produced greater social cohesion, economic gains, neighborhood revitalization, and disaster relief,” Michael Berkowitz, President of 100 Resilient Cities, said in a statement ahead of the budget’s formal release.

Citing proposals expected to increase national security spending and cut other domestic programs, Berkowitz wrote that public services, such as “public parks, schools, libraries, community centers and the arts, provide more ammunition to undermine our enemies than even billions of more dollars in defense spending could.”

Services such as Meals on Wheels, funding for local homeless shelters, job training and rental assistance face an uncertain future with possible cuts to the Block Grant program and other reductions to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Proponents argue that the programs provide essential safety nets to some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. Resilience officers cite their role in building social cohesion in communities.

“If and when these cuts happen to these programs, it could hurt the people more than help them, it could hurt Tulsans,” DeVon Douglass, the Chief Resilience Officer for Tulsa, Oklahoma said.

Discussing health and life expectancy disparities in some communities, Douglass said that some of Tulsa’s resilience priorities include working on racial equity issues and fostering social cohesion. She said the proposed cuts could slow down those efforts but officials will attempt to find workarounds, focusing on resilience projects that remain possible to act on.

“Sometimes there are things that happen outside of our control… like state budgets or federal budgets,” Douglass said, adding that people in the Tulsa community “have consistently done more with less and I think that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

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