When Sheila Beckham’s house was leaking heat last winter, she thought back to when her great-grandfather repaired his home.
“I remembered that the Urban League came and fixed his doors and the windows, and they were still in the same place, so I figured they could help me too,” said Beckham, a lifelong St. Louis resident. “They came to my house and helped me with my windows and doors too, got me a water heater and a furnace.”
The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis offers home improvements like the ones Beckham received through the Weatherization Assistance Program because of federal grants. Those grants make up between 70 percent to 75 percent of the Urban League’s annual budget, and support dozens of additional programs.
Under the Trump administration FY 2018 budget proposal released this week, well over a quarter of that funding could be in jeopardy.
Michael McMillan, the Urban League’s president and CEO, said the nonprofit could lose $5 million in federal grants if the budget passes through Congress as is.
“We also did an analysis of the clients we serve,” McMillan said. He calculated that “23,749 clients would no longer be able to receive our support.”
McMillan also said the analysis of the president’s budget showed the agency would have to lay off 64 of the organization’s 225 employees.
“When I look at these numbers and when we talk about the overall impact, I see their faces,” McMillan said. “The people who have received [help through] our energy assistance program and weatherization program and have received employment from us over the years. This would not be making cities great again, this would hurt cities in a major way. ”
When the proposal was first announced as a less specific so-called “skinny budget” in March, McMillan and other local Urban League members met with Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., to express their concerns.
“We talked about President Trump’s disastrous budget,” Clay said. “[It’s] an assault on seniors, the disabled, low income urban families, the rural poor, and at risk children. In St. Louis, essential human services provided by the Urban League and other non-profits would be devastated.”
Clay said that at the end of the day, Congress would have the final say over the nation’s purse strings and Trump’s budget would not pass wholesale. In a statement sent by email, Blunt agreed that Congress would be making the final call, writing:
“I have serious concerns with some of the steep cuts that are included in the president’s budget for 2018. Ultimately, it is the job of Congress to fund the government, and to ensure that we prioritize programs that have the most value for the most people.”
McMillan said he was encouraged by the conversations with both Clay and Blunt and hoped that St. Louisans would be motivated to call their other congressional representatives and urge them to action.
Unlike McMillan, Beckham hasn’t been mulling over the president’s proposal for months. But she sounds equally perplexed by what people in St. Louis will do if they don’t have access to the Urban League’s services.
“It’s a lot of people in St. Louis who can’t get things done because they don’t have the funds to do it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help,” Beckham said. “If they cut these programs, I don’t know what a whole lotta people in this city are gonna do.”
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