Last week, the Trump administration released the President’s (executive) budget. The executive budget serves as an outline of the President’s agenda. History has shown that executive budget seldom resembles what ultimately gets passed by the Congress; however, this budget marked a definitive philosophy with winners and losers.
Among the agencies expecting a budgetary increase are the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. Among the losers are domestic programs like Meals on Wheels and agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Education (DOE). The latter being of interest to the vocational rehabilitation (VR) community. The VR program is administratively attached to the Department of Education. Under the proposed budget, the Department of Education could see a 13% or nine billion dollar cut. Currently, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) remains flat funded under the current version of the budget, and while VR is not specifically slated for any reductions, this is an alarming development that could have implications for the program.
In response, many Governor’s offices are expecting VR agencies to run projections and scenarios for what a significant cut of this nature might mean for the program, should VR be directly impacted. It is important to consider that this is speculative at this point, and while labor intensive, a worthwhile exercise none the less. Strategic and contingency planning are more critical than ever under such unpredictable circumstances. Even if the cuts in this proposed budget do not come to fruition, there are other implications to be aware of.
If substantial cuts to domestic program are indeed passed into legislation, the impact to persons with disabilities will be significant. This will be the case whether there are healthcare cuts or cuts to other programs that serve persons with a disability. Less resources ultimately puts a strain on VR agencies as less comparable benefits are available.
It could also change the dynamics of the reauthorization process. For example, there may be a significant power grab by departments with large agencies or those with many competing programs to absorb the VR program (often considered well-funded). While there have been other precipitating factors, this has arguably been the case with the Department of Labor during previous reauthorizations.
Again, these threats are only speculative. The Congress will be creating their own version of federal budget; although given the current tenor in Washington, it is safe to assume that there is an uncertain climate as things move forward.
While we have the first impressions of an executive budget, interested parties can voice their opinion by contacting their congressional representatives. It is a certainty that many professional organizations (Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, etc.) will be advocating for the vocational rehabilitation program as well as any other programs that offer services to persons with disabilities. It’s also important to remember that the disability community has often faced challenges and adversity, but has usually prevailed when it comes to service delivery programs.