President Donald Trump’s federal budget proposes big funding cuts that Valley officials say could have devastating effects on federally funded services at the local level, including public housing, health and broadcasting systems.
But local officials say the president’s proposal is just the first step in what is likely to be a long, drawn-out process to shape and finalize the nation’s spending plan, and most are adopting a wait-and-see approach.
Valley PBS has weathered proposed budget cuts before, going back to the Nixon administration.
“We know it’s the first step in a long process that Congress still has to weigh in on,” said Phil Meyer, president and chief executive officer.
National surveys, Meyer said, have revealed that voters oppose eliminating federal funding for public television. The cost of public broadcasting is small – only $1.35 per citizen per year – but the benefits are great, according to a statement released by the station. Valley PBS increases school readiness for children ages 2 to 8, supports teachers and home schoolers, provides lifelong learning, public safety communications and civil discourse. The station serves thousands of families between Merced and Bakersfield.
“The constituents, in the past, have always made their opinion heard and Congress has restored or preserved that funding,” he said. “It’s a little premature to talk about plans.”
Grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting make up about 20 percent of the Valley PBS budget. The other 80 percent is provided through fund-raising efforts and contributions from people, corporate sponsors and foundations.
If cuts were to happen, the station would do a combination of things to make up for the lost revenue, Meyer said, including more fundraising, cutting costs and finding new opportunities.
“It would just change our approach in certain areas,” he said.
At Valley Public Radio, KVPR (89.3 FM), home to popular NPR programs such as “All Things Considered,” director of program content Joe Moore said Trump’s proposed cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would not kill the station, but could certainly cause some pain.
“We are not going off the air if the CPB funding were to be cut,” Moore said. “But would our programming change? It might, but it’s way too early to tell at this point.”
In 2016, Valley Public Radio received about $137,000 – or about 8 percent of total station revenues for operations – from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the form of a community services grant, Moore said.
“It allows us to purchase programming and to create our local programs,” Moore said. “By far our most popular programs are NPR national shows, ‘Morning Edition’ and ‘All Things Considered.’ But we have to purchase those programs from NPR; we have to pay for the right to run those shows.”
Unlike commercial radio stations, which sell advertising time as their sources of income, public radio stations like KVPR “are prohibited from selling advertising,” Moore explained. “We’re reliant on donations from individuals, who we call members; we receive support from foundations like the James Irvine Foundation; there are businesses who make donations; and we also do events to raise money.”
KVPR’s membership and audience share are at or near all-time highs, putting the station in a better position to weather a CPB funding cut than stations in smaller or more rural communities where local listener support is harder to come by.
“It’s hard to forecast, but I could see if you have stations in smaller communities that are much more reliant on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, that could cause a ripple effect throughout the system.”
Programming executives will likely seek to preserve their most popular – and most expensive – programs, like the NPR flagship shows. “So it could be smaller programs that are nationally distributed that would bear the brunt, or it could be the local programming – the news and public affairs – that is affected.”
Over the past five years, KVPR has ramped up its news staff from one reporter to three; if the budget cuts materialize, Moore said, “we would have to look at things, but we don’t know what they would be at this point.”
“We’re a pretty lean operation as it is,” he said. “But it’s either grow revenue or cut expenses, and we’d likely have to do both if this came to pass, to minimize the pain.”
Preston Prince, executive director of the Fresno Housing Authority, is hoping the proposed budget cuts are just that – a proposal. Trump wants to cut $6 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Why scare people if it’s not going to happen,” Prince said.
HUD provides about 75 percent of the local housing authority’s budget. The other 25 percent comes from other grants and income generated through agency-owned properties.
“We’ve been doing a good job diversifying our portfolio, doing real estate deals, so we are not as dependent on federal dollars,” Prince said.
But the authority has identified three areas of concern: the impact on families currently served, staff and renovation and development projects.
Prince is confident that the agency will be able to protect all of the families currently receiving housing assistance. His peers at other authorities across California may be forced to eliminate families – as many as 15,000 statewide – from programs, he said. Staffing is not expected to change.
The cuts would affect community development block grants and new initiatives such as housing for homeless veterans, Prince said. In that case, the authority would not receive money to repair properties, he said.
Trump’s tax reform is more of a concern. It would affect the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, a tool often used by the housing authority to work with private investors on new housing projects. The program was used to build 30 developments throughout Fresno county, bringing in $350 million of private investment, Prince said.
“We’ve been active as a developer in California bringing in new housing from Firebaugh to Reedley, Selma and in Fresno,” Prince said. “Our ability to continue, to provide new housing, is going to be impacted by tax reform and so that makes us nervous. We have a high need for quality, affordable housing throughout California.”
The Fresno County Department of Public Health relies heavily on direct federal funding sources and funding that passes through the state, said David Pomaville, the Fresno County director of public health. This year, the department will receive approximately $24 million dollars, or 27 percent of its budget, from state and federal funding sources, Pomaville said.
“Critical services provided include tuberculosis control, community wellness, immunizations, childhood lead poisoning investigation, communicable disease control, public health emergency response and preparedness, community nursing programs, and laboratory services,” he said. “We are evaluating the timing and impact to Fresno County on proposed federal budget reductions, but we can conclude that substantial reductions in federal funding for public health programs will impact our ability to continue the work of critical public health prevention and response programs.”
Dr. Ken Bird, Fresno County health officer, said that the department needs a reliable stream of local, state and federal funding to keep the region’s health protected. “Past examples of the dangers of cutbacks in these funds can be seen in the resurgence of tuberculosis in the 1990s and the current surge in congenital syphilis,” he said. “Readiness for such emergent illnesses as Ebola, Zika, and even Legionnaires’ Disease is also critical to this uninterrupted funding.”
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said it’s a familiar drill – an initial presidential budget that cuts funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.
Trump’s proposal to cut funds for the county jail to house undocumented immigrants is “no different from the Bush budget or the Obama budget at this point,” Mims said.
“This is where we start writing letters and making our phone calls to our congressmen and our senators asking them to please support putting SCCP money in the budget,” she said.
In 2014-15, Fresno County received only $204,775 from the federal government and last year it increased slightly to $238,532. At one time, in 2008-09, the county got $1.3 million in federal funds for the program.
Staff writers Barbara Anderson, BoNhia Lee and Tim Sheehan contributed to the story.