Spotlight Exclusives

Trump on Poverty: More Questions than Answers

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

In his address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, President Donald Trump promised sweeping relief for Americans struggling to overcome economic adversity.

“Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed,” Trump said. “Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing, and hope.”

But in terms of specifics on anti-poverty policy, Trump’s speech gave only hints of the direction his administration might take but offered few, if any, details.

Trump’s general recipe for economic growth included new jobs he said would be created through:

  • Regulation reduction, a corporate tax cut that will stimulate job growth, and stringent trade policies that would discourage companies from moving jobs overseas.
  • A proposed $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
  • Immigration policies that he pledged will “raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars and make our communities safer for everyone.”

On specific issues that impact low-income communities, Trump focused on his administration’s promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and to create a new federal program to increase access to childcare and paid family leave.

On the ACA, Trump said he wants any reform package to continue to provide coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions, offer tax cuts to make health coverage more affordable and ensure a “stable transition for Americans currently enrolled in the healthcare exchanges.” Trump also said any new plan should give governors “the resources and flexibility they need with Medicaid to make sure no one is left out.”

Significant splits remain within Republicans in Congress on how best to move forward with ACA reform, but some observers saw Trump’s speech as his most aggressive call to date for retaining some of the signature achievements of the law: covering those with pre-existing conditions, offering tax credits to ease affordability of policies and retaining expanded Medicaid coverage.

Trump also gave no details on his childcare and paid family leave policies. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center released an analysis Tuesday of the childcare proposal Trump made during the presidential campaign, finding that “70 percent of benefits go to families with at least $100,000 and 25 percent of benefits go to families with at least $200,000. Very few benefits go to the lowest income families who are likely to struggle most with paying for child care.”

In post-speech interviews with Spotlight, poverty policy experts on both sides of the political aisle agreed that it was too early in Trump’s administration to judge the ultimate shape and content of his anti-poverty agenda.

Robert Doar, the Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, was encouraged that the topic of childcare made it into the speech, even if Trump did not elaborate on any legislative specifics.

“One of the very few specific references was to childcare and people interested in resources for childcare should be encouraged by that,” Doar said.  “My experience with politicians is when they make a commitment that clear, they will try and get something.”

Isaac Shapiro, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, was less optimistic. “There was some nice language about his interest in helping the poor, and he’s used such broad language in the past, but when you peel back the curtains and look more closely at his plans, it would always lead to cutbacks in the safety net that would cause millions to fall into poverty and tens of millions to lose health insurance.”



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