Las Vegas Sun

July 18, 2019

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News Analysis:

How Trump budget would boost Yucca project, cut Nevadans’ safety net


Eric Thayer / The New York Times

President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal is delivered to the House Budget Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Feb. 12, 2018.

President Donald Trump rolled out his budget proposal Monday, reiterating some unfulfilled objectives from his first budget and reaffirming his priorities.

The $4.4 trillion 2019 budget rolls back Medicaid funding and Obamacare provisions impacting older adults. Among the expenditures: $716 billion for national defense spending and money for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

After a year of failing repeatedly to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which has helped many purchase insurance but resulted in higher premiums for some, the Trump administration is proposing to revisit the effort. The president’s budget suggests a solution similar to a plan that Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., helped craft that would put block grants in place of ACA funding and cap Medicaid.

Here’s a look at other parts of the budget:

Yucca Mountain

The administration is also again seeking money for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, though not nearly the amount that would be required to see the project through. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proposing $48 million for work related to Yucca Mountain, and the Department of Energy is asking for $120 million for the project and interim storage.

Robert Halstead, executive director of the state’s Agency for Nuclear Projects, says both agencies are pursuing licensing using leftover funds from the 2010-2011 fiscal year. The commission has about a half-million dollars and DOE has more than $10 million that they were court-ordered in 2013 to use to continue the licensing process. The commission expects the process to cost $330 million, but the state pegs the pricetag at about $1.6 billion.

Lawmakers say the whole process would cost at least $96 million, and the requested appropriations are just a small fraction of that total.

“That sum would be a tiny down payment on a project that will cost $100 billion and ship nuclear waste through hundreds of congressional districts across the country,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.

The president’s budget also requests $3.6 million for Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located. The county has said the licensing process should start so that experts can evaluate the science behind the project and determine whether it should move forward. The funding for the county would support senior services and veteran housing, among other programs.

“It has now been 20 years since the federal government was mandated by law to start accepting nuclear waste for safe long-term storage in a deep geological repository,” Nye County Commission Vice Chairman Dan Schinhofen said in a statement. “Not only is the repository not complete, but we haven’t been allowed to see if the proposed site, at Yucca Mountain, is even safe for its construction.”

Nevada’s Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said the state will fight the proposal. Nevada has committed millions of dollars over the years to lawsuits and efforts related to stopping the project.

“Yucca Mountain is incapable of safely storing the world’s most toxic substance and Nevada will continue to oppose any efforts to dump nuclear waste in our state,” Sandoval said in a statement. “I am disappointed that the administration’s budget appears to resurrect this dormant project and we will leave no stone unturned in fighting any attempt to revive this failed idea.”

More on health care

In addition to changes to Medicare and Medicaid, the administration again recommended that Congress repeal and replace Obamacare with legislation similar to the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson amendment, and prohibit abortion providers from receiving federal funds.

The government already prohibits certain government insurance programs from providing abortions. The Hyde Amendment passed in 1976 to block federal funding for abortions, with exceptions added later for rape, incest or the mother’s survival.

Abortion providers that would no longer receive federal funds from the department of Health and Human Services include those that receive funding under the Title X Family Planning program and Medicaid, among other HHS programs. Planned Parenthood makes up 13 percent of the country’s Title X centers, receiving funds from Medicaid reimbursements and Title X.

The organization cannot use any of its federal funding on abortions, which make up about 3 percent of its health services. Clients seeking an abortion have to use private insurance, pay out of pocket or carry to term. Court cases have interpreted some state constitutions to include coverage for abortions in their state Medicaid programs, but Nevada is not one of them, according to the ACLU.

Community block grants

The Trump budget proposes eliminating the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the Community Services Block Grant, and the Community Development Block Grant program, which supports efforts related to affordable housing and infrastructure development, among others.

“Eligible entities that receive funding from CSBG receive funding from many other sources, including other federal sources,” Trump’s budget said. “CSBG accounts for just 5 percent, on average, of total funding that these eligible entities receive, and these funds are distributed by a formula that is not directly tied to performance and outcomes.”

Trump targeted community block grants in his previous budget, citing a lack of results then as well. Community officials have said these types of cuts would directly impact housing and development programs. Nevada gets $3 million annually from HOME funds, which help the state expand affordable housing.

“The budget devolves responsibility to state and local governments, which are better positioned to assess local community needs and address unique market challenges,” the budget says.

Safety net programs

Major changes have been proposed for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. Trump wants to combine these benefits with a food box program and strengthen work requirements for recipients.

The budget proposal also seeks to allow states to streamline certain safety net programs. These states would be subject to random accountability reviews that focus on how well officials help clients find employment and reduce welfare dependency.

“Altogether, the budget offers a bold new vision for America’s safety net, and reinforces this administration’s commitment to helping all Americans achieve their full potential,” the budget proposal says.

Titus said in her statement on Trump’s budget request that this new “skinny” budget, as Trump’s spending plan was called last year, targets Nevada. She pointed to Republicans’ tax reform, which is expected to add roughly $1.5 trillion to the deficit by 2027. The measure provides mostly temporary tax cuts for individuals while corporations get largely permanent tax breaks.

“To pay for the Republican tax scam and a draconian crackdown on immigrants, the Trump administration has released a budget that attacks Southern Nevada and social safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid and supplemental nutrition funding,” Titus said.

Public lands

The Interior Department is proposing a $230 million cut from the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act. Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said in a statement that the administration would “rob” the program, impacting education, water and public lands projects.

Sandoval said he is concerned about the department’s request to “raid” those funds.

“SNPLMA is a model partnership between the (Bureau of Land Management), the state of Nevada, and local governments and, as required by federal law, the funds received from land sales stay in Nevada to be reinvested in critical conservation projects,” Sandoval said. “I know Nevada’s congressional delegation will work to ensure SNPLMA funds remain invested where they were intended by Congress — at home here in Nevada.”