Rep. Bill Keating rebukes newly released federal budget

Congressman Bill Keating recently visited The Times. —Stacey Rupolo

Congressman Bill Keating addressed the local media via teleconference on Thursday afternoon to discuss the potential ramifications of the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget on the Cape and Islands.

Fresh out of a meeting with the Congressional Foreign Affairs committee, where the topic of discussion was the massive $10 billion proposed cut to the State Department budget, Mr. Keating spoke about the potential local impact the proposed budget could have.

On the Vineyard, the proposed budget, which Mr. Keating described as “short sighted and economically harmful,” could significantly impact water quality, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), Coast Guard staffing, flood insurance, disaster preparedness and even the availability of air transportation.

“The $54 billion increase in defense spending is out of line compared to the direction of the previous administration,” he said. “It doesn’t come without a price. These cuts not only reduce leveraged money, but they’re going to put an enormous burden on states.”

The administration’s reforms include eliminating funding for a $3 billion CDBG program, which has been in existence since 1974. “These grants have been used so effectively in our area,” he said. “This is where communities set their own priorities and get their own partners, and one increment of federal money ends up multiplied many times over. When people are looking at federal cuts, what they’re really looking at is Massachusetts state cuts, as well as local cuts. These things are all layered together.”

Mr. Keating expressed concern about the fate of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which is also on the chopping block.

“These are emergency funds that allow people to stay safely in their homes,” he said. “It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the most cost-effective thing to do.”

Mr. Keating said the $2.6 billion cut to the EPA could considerably slow advances in nitrogen mitigation and wastewater treatment that have been made in the area, particularly on the Cape, which he referred to was the “Silicon Valley of water treatment.”

“We were able to use [EPA] grants very innovatively to mitigate the effects of wastewater. We were the laboratory experiment for the country when it came to how to deal with wastewater through alternatives. We were moving along with several million dollars in grant money to mitigate nitrogen with natural means, through estuary development. The absence of these could have an enormous effect,” he said. “The states use the state revolving funds for water infrastructure financing. The [2.3 billion] cuts are critical to drinking water, wastewater infrastructure which is so important in our district. Not just for research, but for monitoring. This would totally eliminate the Southern New England Estuaries Geographic Program.”

Mr. Keating said the cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will also be felt. “There’s $250 million in NOAA grants that have been cut,” he said. “That’s important in terms of our research, our education. It’s going to have an effect on the work at the Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). [These cuts] will have an enormous impact on economic growth, on tourism, and on quality of life…I could go on and on.”

Cuts to the Federal Emergency Management Program (FEMA) could affect the Cape and Islands in several ways, Mr. Keating said. “There’s a $667 million cut to FEMA state and local grant funding, including the pre-disaster mitigation program,” he said. “The burden now will fall on state and local communities to respond to disasters.” Mr. Keating said there is also a proposed $190 million cut to the flood map program, a critical adjunct to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which itself is up for renewal this year. “We’re going to have a lot to say about that particular issue. I don’t think there’s a place in the country that knows what the effects of poor flood mapping means to individuals and to communities. By cutting the mapping you’re hurting the fairness in dealing with flood insurance. On a more positive note, members in the house, including myself, are meeting at the end of this week to prepare a strategy for the continuation of the [NFIP]. It’ll be a bipartisan meeting. I can’t conceive how we can do that effectively with these mapping cuts.”

Mr. Keating said air travel to and from the Island, in particular Cape Air, could be hit hard by the $12.7 billion decrease in funding to the Department of Transportation. “It eliminates the funding totally for the Essential Air Service Program. Entities like Cape Air rely heavily on the funding from this program.  That’s going to cause potential disruption in air travel in our district, particularly in the Islands.”

The Coast Guard stands to take a hit from the new budget. “Even though the Coast Guard hasn’t been specifically targeted, I have heard concerns that the emphasis will be more on the other services and less on the Coast Guard,” he said. “I’m concerned about some of the information I hear percolating up. If you look at the border wall issue versus the Coast Guard, you’re spending money for a 2000 mile land border and cutting back on the protection that is much more of a threat to our coastal areas. There’s a contradiction there.

“Once this becomes more in the public domain, I think there’ll be a pushback, not only from the public, but from state officials as well. I do think it will help mitigate the effects of this budget on all members, because clearly Republican districts will be affected as well.”