Trump budget would affect KRZA, airport, seniors, others


VALLEY—On March 16 President Donald Trump released his proposed preliminary budget for the 2018 fiscal year. The budget only addresses discretionary spending and doesn't change mandatory spending like Medicare and Social Security. Many items from various departments are cut or eliminated to pay for an increased budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department.

It should be noted that this is a blueprint that outlines how Congress should act. Congress makes and approves the final budget so it is subject to change.

If enacted today as is, however, this is how the budget would directly affect the San Luis Valley:

San Luis Valley Regional Airport

The Transportation Department's budget would shrink from $18.6 billion to $16.2 billion, a 13 percent decrease.

Part of that decrease comes from eliminating $175 million in Essential Air Service subsidies. The subsidies are used to provide an airline incentive to use rural airports. The money does not come from taxes but rather fees paid by any airline carrier that flies over U.S. airspace.

San Luis Valley Regional Airport's EAS was in jeopardy last year because the airport was only 205 miles, instead of 210 miles, from Albuquerque International Sunport. After many community members and government officials sent in letters, DOT waived the $200 cap and allowed a $268 per passenger subsidy for Great Lake's service in the 2015 fiscal year.

"Essential Air Service is hugely beneficial to the community," said SLV Regional Airport Manager Dustin Allinger in an email. "Not only does flying out of the SLV Regional Airport save three hours of travel time, passengers also save the high price of parking at DIA."

When Boutique Air arrived in October they saw 360 passengers that month and their EAS subsidy was $241.44 per passenger. In February they had 923 passengers with a subsidy of $218.20.

"Since Boutique Air started service in October 2016, we have seen an increase in reliability, enplanement numbers have doubled and ticket prices are less than half the cost that Great Lakes was charging," Allinger said.

The budget also mentions shifting air traffic control to an independent, non-governmental organization. This would not affect the airport because it does not have a control tower.

Seniors

The budget for the Department of Health and Human Services would shrink 17.9 percent from $84.1 billion to $69 billion. According to Meals on Wheels, 35 percent of their federal funding comes from the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program that is part of HHS.

Locally, there are nine meal sites in the Valley run by South Central Colorado Seniors that serve meals to senior citizens. The one in Blanca provides meals only on Wednesday but the locations in La Jara, Alamosa, Antonito, Monte Vista, Del Norte, Center, San Luis and Saguache serve and deliver food Monday through Friday.

Last year, a total of 75, 386 meals were served to 656 clients.

"That's a significant amount of food in a year's time," said Frances Valdez, the director of South Central Colorado Seniors.

Of those, 44,047 meals were delivered to 329 homebound seniors. "The most affected would be those who are homebound," said Valdez. "We do more than just take a meal. Our delivery drivers are a safety check. Sometimes that's the only other person they will see."

Also on the chopping block is the Community Services Block Grant, which funds various community programs that are state-administered. The senior meal program in Mineral County is supplemented only with CSBG dollars.

"If that was totally eliminated we wouldn't have money to help Mineral County and serve seniors in that area," Valdez said.

The budget additionally eliminates the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which is managed by the Department of Labor and helps senior citizens train for jobs. The Valley Courier contacted the nearest office located in Trinidad for information but they did not comment before time of printing.

KRZA

Trump's budget would eliminate funding for independent agencies that are not tied to specific departments, such as the National Endowment for the Arts. Also gone would be the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service.

KRZA, the Valley's non-profit radio station and local NPR-affiliate, would lose around $150,000 from its annual budget without the existence of CPB.

"That would be half, maybe a little more, of our funding," said KRZA General Manager Gerald Rodriguez.

The other half is funding by KRZA's pledge drive and underwriting. The funds cover day-to-day operations and employee salaries along with purchasing NPR programing. Rodriguez estimates that they spend $30,000 a year for the syndicated content.

"We would have to stop carrying certain programs because we wouldn't be able to afford them any more," Rodriquez said.

All show hosts are volunteers but KRZA has a six-person staff, half of which are part time.

"We would have to chop down and pretty much be a skeleton crew," said Rodriguez. "This would be critical to lose it for us, or any public radio station for that matter."

Adams State University

The proposal states that the National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, U.S. Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will see cuts in research funds.

Currently, Adams State University does not have any grant projects from those agencies so research at the institution will not be impacted.

The Department of Education's budget will affect ASU, however. The budget is planned to be reduced 14 percent to $59 billion from $68.2 billion. Part of that cut are federally funded work-study programs that will be reduced "significantly."

It is unclear what that means in a dollar amount but "it would have an impact on our institution," said ASU Financial Director Phil Schroder. "For us, the federal budget is not quite as big as the state, but it's still a pretty good chunk of change."

ASU has roughly 2,500 students enrolled on campus with an average of 400-500 students participating in work-study programs during the regular academic year. Federal dollars fund about 38 percent of the total work-study.

Students work six to eight hours a week at a varying pay scale, starting at minimum wage. Each student earns a total of $2,000 divided between the two semesters. Various jobs include assisting in labs and administration offices or on the grounds and other facilities.

"We would either have to limit the number of hours a student could work or limit the number of students that could work," Schroder said.

Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area

The Department of Interior's budget is planned to go down 12 percent from $13.2 billion to 11.6 billion.

The budget would eliminate funding of all 49 National Heritage Areas as part of that 12 percent. Three of those are in Colorado with the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area located in the Valley.

At this time it is unknown exactly how the lack of funds would impact the Heritage Area.

"The specific details of the 2018 National Park Service budget, including funding for our Heritage Area, are still being developed and will be released later this spring," said Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area Director Tori Martinez in an email when reached for comment.

Rural development

The Department of Agriculture would see some of the deepest cuts. A 21 percent reduction would make the budget $17.9 billion instead of $22.6 billion.

Getting rid of the Water and Wastewater loan and grant program saves $498 million. The USDA's Rural Development workload would also be reduced.

"Congress is expected to act on the proposed [fiscal year] 2018 budget during this coming year," responded the USDA in an email. "Currently, we cannot predict how [fiscal year] 2018 spending might affect Rural Development programs."

For context, the current project to overhaul Mosca's wastewater system was funded in part from the Water and Wastewater loan and grant program. It gave Alamosa County $814,000, which is roughly 56 percent of the $1.456 million project.

Those funds for the new system are secure and unaffected since the proposal is for the next fiscal year.

USDA funded 13 different community and business programs along with $5,728,106 in single family housing programs throughout the Valley in the 2016 fiscal year. The housing program provides people the opportunity to buy, build or repair homes with eligibility based on income.

Other examples of community and business programs include $15,600 to ASU for studying the Valley's agriculture, $18,700 to the Conejos County Library purchasing equipment and $2,977,606 to Monte Vista Potato Growers for construction.

Economic development

The Department of Commerce is set to lose $1.5 billion, a 16 percent decrease from the previous year's $7.8 billion budget.

To save $221 million the proposed budget would terminate the Economic Development Administration. The San Luis Valley Development Resources Group is an EDA planning district.

"What that means to the Valley is that the federal government has boots-on-the-ground research within the Valley to provide them data as it relates to a number of federal and state programs," said DRG Director Kevin Wilkins.

Every few years the DRG creates a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) report based off of the research.

"That document is used in helping us with our Colorado regional blueprint and it is used by other entities as a basis for grant funding. It acts as a credible source for making both private and public funding requests. It's a pretty valuable tool."

There are no current economic projects in the pipeline that would be affected, according to Wilkins. Yet 2018 is when the next CEDS is scheduled so the report from 2013 could be the last. The lack of information would create a ripple effect.

"What are local governments and non-profits going to use as a basis to quantify any funding requests? If this goes away, then what? Do we just disappear?"

Wilkins predicts that his five-person staff would shrink to four.

The EDA also awards grants that range from as small as $20,000 to as large as $500,000. The DRG uses EDA grants for their revolving loan fund as well as assisting in infrastructure, public works, short term planning and other economic areas.

"If there was a group of people who wanted to do a feasibility analysis done on canola, we may be able to apply for an EDA grant to help move that project forward," said Wilkins. "There's no guarantee we'd get it because all of these funds are competitive but if that goes away then there's no chance of getting it."

Low-income Energy Assistance Program

Another program within HHS that may cease to exist is the Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP). The program helps poor individuals by paying a portion of their heating bills in the winter months. It starts November 1 and ends April 30.

According to Alamosa County Human Services Director Catherine Salazar, the average payment Coloradoans receive is $344. LEAP's minimum payment is $200 and the maximum is $700.

"If the federal government decreased the allocation to Colorado, probably only the minimum or maximum payments would change," Salazar said.

Depending on when a person applies, they may receive the money in two half payments or the entire sum at the end of the period.

As of the end of February 64,032 applications statewide have already been approved for next winter's program. If they're eligible for LEAP then they're also eligible for the crisis intervention program. This assists in unplanned situations like when a furnace breaks down.

In Alamosa County 1,414 people were approved for LEAP benefits. This translates to $518,781 that went towards utility bills. As of March 30 there have been 1,328 applications already processed for next year.

Funding for the current wave of applicants is already secured and will not be affected by the budget.

Salazar foresees that a lack of half a million dollars will have an economic impact on the local propane companies.

"If people can't entirely afford their utilities that could turn around into more shutoffs," said Salazar. "In a cold weather environment like we have, that's huge. That's putting children, babies and adults at risk. It's a snowball effect when things start to get cut off."

This report attempted to be as comprehensive as possible, however, with federal funding being multifaceted it is conceivable that other direct impacts were overlooked and missed.

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