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The election is over and Donald J. Trump will be the next president of the United States. The important question now is, what does this mean for the future well-being of Arkansas children and families? Trump doesn't have the political/policy track record that most candidates have when they become president, so the best we can do is make educated guesses based on his campaign promises and the priorities the Republican-controlled Congress will likely push with the new administration.
One issue at the top of the list is what happens to the Affordable Care Act. Most agree the ACA will be repealed. But how will it be replaced so that millions of previously uninsured Americans don't lose their new coverage or have a coverage gap until a new system is put in place? This is particularly important for Arkansas, which led the nation in reducing its ranks of uninsured adults down to about 9 percent, mostly through the Medicaid expansion for over 270,000 adults. Critical patient protections in the ACA also bear watching, such as what happens to protections for pre-existing conditions, no lifetime limits or the dropping of consumers when they get sick, limits on out-of-pocket costs for families, and allowing kids to remain on their parent's coverage until they turn 26.
Another health issue advocates will be watching: Will Medicaid become a "block grant" program under the guise of giving states more flexibility? Many experts believe that would actually reduce funding over time and give states room to enact harmful provisions — such as greater cost-sharing, drug testing and work requirements — that would make it more difficult for low-income families to afford and retain coverage. And what happens to children's coverage? Will Congress fundamentally change the wildly successful Child Health Improvement Act (CHIP), which has helped Arkansas reduce its rate of uninsured children to historically low levels of less than 5 percent?
Federal tax cuts are also on the horizon, and they will not be good for most Arkansas families. Trump's promise to cut personal and corporate income taxes, if enacted, would have major reverberations on the federal budget and would mostly benefit the wealthy. An analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice found his proposal to cut personal and corporate income taxes would reduce federal revenue by at least $4.8 trillion over the next decade (possibly as much as $6.4 trillion if rates on "pass through" income are also reduced). The top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with an average yearly income of $1.7 million, would benefit the most under his plan. They would receive 44 percent of benefits of the total tax cut pie. The poorest 20 percent of taxpayers? Their share of the pie would be less than 2 percent.
To help pay for his tax cuts, Trump has proposed cutting funding for nondefense programs through the annual budget process by 1 percent of each year's previous total. Only 1 percent per year, you say? The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that, by the 10th year (2026), nondefense programs' spending would be about 29 percent below current levels, after adjustments for inflation. What does this mean for Arkansas? A wide range of critical services would be cut, including education, veterans' medical care, border enforcement, child care, national parks, air traffic control and low-income housing, to name a few. These cuts would be exacerbated if the economic growth promised under his tax plan — which is supposed to pay for four-fifths of the cost of the plan — doesn't materialize. In that case, even larger budget cuts would have to be made to the programs critical to our communities and the well-being of many Arkansas children and families.
Other policy changes proposed during the campaign would also impact children and families. One is a major shift in federal education funding from traditional public schools to charters, a move that could further weaken the precarious state of many schools in low-income districts. Or what about the thousands of Arkansans who came here as immigrant children, whose work permits candidate Trump vowed to take away? Or proposed cuts to nutrition programs that feed so many Arkansas families?
It will be up to Arkansas's congressional delegation and Arkansas state policymakers to not simply sign off on these changes, but to push to protect and expand gains that Arkansas children and families have made. And it will be up to the rest of us to make sure they do.
Rich Huddleston is director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
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