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Trump budget cuts crop insurance and heating, boosts military and infrastructure

GRAND FORKS, N.D.—A long list of potential funding cuts proposed by President Donald Trump could target programs that serve North Dakotans and Minnesotans, Congress members said this week.

But the U.S. lawmakers don't think the president's budget—at least in its entirety—will fly in Congress.

Trump called for $4.4 trillion in spending for 2019, a 10 percent increase from government spending in 2017, according to a report in the Washington Post. However, multiple agencies face cuts while others could see boosts in funding.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture would see a budget of $19.2 billion, a $3.5 billion decrease from the 2018 budget, according to the Washington Post. The plan would reduce funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, by $17.2 billion.

U.S. Reps. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., as well as Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., all shared concerns the cuts to the USDA would leave North Dakota and Minnesota farmers behind. They all raised concerns of the cuts affecting access to crop insurance, rural development and other agricultural programs.

"I think if what is in the president's budget became law, crop insurance would not exist," Peterson told the Herald. "The good news is it's not going to become law."

Crop insurance

Hoeven and Cramer both praised the proposed budget for various reasons, including an infrastructure plan, an increased military budget, funding to fight increased opioid use across the nation and prioritizing veterans. The largest benefactors of the budget would be the Defense Department with $686.1 billion, an $80 billion boost from the 2018 budget; the Department of Health and Human Services with $96.5 billion, or a $9.4 billion increase; and the Department of Veterans Affairs with $85.5 billion, or an $11.1 billion uptick, according to the Post report.

Cramer called the cuts to farm programs ill-advised, while Hoeven said crop insurance is needed to support producers who face challenges from low commodity prices and natural disasters.

Heitkamp said the budget leaves rural America and Native American communities behind.

"The president's budget is really damaging to a lot of these programs," Heitkamp told the Herald Friday, adding she's hopeful the cuts won't gain approval in Congress.

The challenge comes in battling the cuts in separate bills, Peterson said. The ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee said he fears some of Trump's budget proposals for the USDA could be added into the Farm Bill.

"Like every time, we're going to have to try to fight those off," he said.

Heating assistance

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, both Democrats from Minnesota, criticized the budget for suggesting the elimination of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Weatherization Assistance Programs. A program of the Health and Human Services Department, LIHEAP serves about 126,000 homes in Minnesota while the Weatherization Program helped more than 300,000 low-income households in the state, according to a joint statement from the senators.

"The importance of LIHEAP cannot be overstated—especially in places like Minnesota that experience bitterly cold temperatures and lengthy winters," the statement said. "These programs provide resources that are critically important to thousands of Minnesotans."

Heitkamp's Office said in a September news release about 13,000 North Dakota households rely on LIHEAP, which aids low-income families in heating their homes.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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