How At-Risk Federal Discretionary Funds Are Important to Kentucky

By Ashley Spalding
May 15, 2017

Click to view as PDF.

Similar to President Trump’s initial budget blueprint, or “skinny budget,” his full budget proposal slated for release next week is expected to include cuts to non-defense discretionary (NDD) program funding in order to pay for increased spending for defense and border control — and pave the way for tax cuts for the wealthy. These NDD programs are separate from mandatory federal programs like SNAP (formerly known as “food stamps”) that are also expected to face major, damaging cuts in the president’s plan. 1

Cuts to NDD programs would be harmful to Kentucky as they provide more than $2 billion a year, the equivalent of 20 percent of our state’s General Fund, in critical funding for improving education, supporting children and families, making our communities safer and healthier, providing assistance for the state’s most vulnerable, developing our workforce and economy, and increasing cultural enrichment opportunities. Such federal budget cuts would occur in the context of our state already experiencing declines in federal funding in recent years, and struggling under state budget cuts.

Here are some highlights of what federal NDD funds do in Kentucky and what would be at risk with cuts.

Improvements in Education

Cuts to federal grants that provide funding to improve education would be harmful in Kentucky, where educational attainment levels are not where they need to be and state budget cuts are already being deeply felt. Just half of Kentucky kids are considered to be ready when they enter Kindergarten; achievement gaps persist in our K-12 system; more than 344,000 Kentuckians have no high school diploma or GED credentials; and we are far from reaching our state’s higher education goals. 2

Meanwhile, K-12, adult and postsecondary education are all struggling under frozen funding levels and state budget cuts in recent years. Cuts make it hard for our schools to address achievement gaps, for adult education programs to improve access to a GED credential and for tuition at the state’s public universities to be affordable. 3

Here are some of the NDD programs that provide funding to help improve education in Kentucky:

  • Head Start. This program provides low-income Kentucky children across the state with early childhood education and care that has significant short- and long-term benefits, including improving the likelihood that participants graduate from high school, attend college and receive a postsecondary degree or credential. 4
  • Special Education. Federal NDD funds help to educate children with disabilities — including early intervention services for infants and toddlers, preschool children and older school-aged children.
  • Adult Education. Federal funds support local adult education centers that provide free adult education services across the state. Earning a GED credential improves employment opportunities and more than a third of Kentuckians earning GED diplomas go on to postsecondary education. 5
  • College Work-Study. By providing mostly on-campus jobs for qualifying students, federal college work-study funding helps more Kentuckians be able to afford college — and research has shown work-study students are more likely to graduate than those in non-work-study jobs and more likely to be employed after graduating than students who do not work during college. 6
  • School Improvement Grants (SIGs). These funds help to raise achievement of students in low-performing schools. A SIG grant, for instance, was a critical part of Leslie County High School’s dramatic jump from scoring poorly on standardized tests prior to receiving school improvement funds, to scoring in the 94th percentile in Kentucky a few years later and being designated as a distinguished school 2 years in a row. 7 Twenty-five schools in Kentucky are currently receiving SIG funds. 8
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers. These federal funds are used to design and implement effective after school programs. They enable schools to provide students with homework assistance and an array of activities that complement their regular academic programs; funding can also be used to offer literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children. As an example, through 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding South Livingston Elementary School offers an after-school computer coding program. 9 President Trump’s “skinny budget” proposal recommended completely eliminating this program.
  • Supporting Effective Instruction. This grant provides funding to increase student academic achievement; improve the quality and effectiveness of teachers, principals and other school leaders; and provide low-income and minority students greater access to effective teachers, principals and other school leaders.
  • Rural and Low-Income Schools Program and Small, Rural School Achievement Program. These two federal programs provide assistance to rural school districts that often lack adequate resources due to a weak local tax base.

Help for Kids and Families

Children and families in our state already face many challenges and additional cuts to federal funding would be detrimental in particular to at-risk children. Our state’s child welfare system is already overstretched and child abuse and neglect is unfortunately on the rise. 10 In addition, Kentucky’s child care assistance program is already relatively weak compared to programs in other states in terms of eligibility limits, parent co-payments, reimbursement rates to providers and how much leeway parents have when looking for a job. 11

These are some of the federal NDD programs that support children and families in Kentucky:

  • Child Welfare Services. The Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services program provides states with funds to provide preventive intervention, to place children in foster care when they cannot stay safely at home and to provide family reunification services to enable the safe return of children to their homes when possible. These funds can also be used for child protective services — including investigations of child abuse and neglect, counseling and emergency assistance. Kentucky received funding in 2016 for protective services, foster care maintenance payments and administrative costs. 12
  • Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention. Kentucky receives funding through this program to develop, operate, expand and/or enhance community-based prevention-focused programs and activities.
  • Healthy Start. This program helps to reduce the rate of infant mortality and improve perinatal outcomes in high-risk communities. In Kentucky, there is a Healthy Start program in Louisville to address high infant mortality rates in several of the city’s zip codes where babies are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday than in the Louisville Metro area as a whole. 13 The program provides home visits and other outreach methods to make sure women begin getting prenatal care early on and continue to get consistent care through pregnancy and after delivery.
  • Child Care and Development Block Grant. These funds make child care assistance available for low-income families and children. In Kentucky, they are an important source of funding for Kentucky’s popular Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which provides important support to more than 26,000 low-income Kentucky families struggling to afford care while they work. 14

Healthier and Safer Communities

Despite important health improvements likely resulting from the Medicaid expansion, Kentucky still ranks toward the bottom on many health indicators compared to other states. Kentucky has the highest rate of cancer and cancer deaths in the nation, and more than one in four Kentucky adults reports having a chronic health condition. 15 Our state has also been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic and has the third highest rate of death due to drug overdose, alongside Ohio. 16 In addition, Kentucky faces many environmental concerns, including water pollution that degrades our drinking water, and state budget cuts have weakened environmental enforcement. 17

Federal NDD programs are a critical source of funding for health services in our state, including the following:

  • State-Based Comprehensive Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection
  • Mental Health Block Grant
  • Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant
  • Family Planning Services
  • State Offices of Rural Health
  • Universal Newborn Hearing Screening
  • Preventive Health Block Grant, Preventive Health Services, Preventive Health – Rape Prevention and Education

Other NDD programs that improve health and safety in Kentucky include:

  • Black Lung Clinics Program. Kentucky receives grant money to seek out and provide health services to current and former coal miners. There are currently two Black Lung Clinics in our state. 18
  • Office of National Drug Control programs. The High Intensity Drug Trafficking program provides federal funding to address drug trafficking and production in 32 Kentucky counties. 19 The Drug Free Communities Support Program helps prevent and reduce youth substance use/abuse; in 2015, 21 projects in Kentucky received funding through this grant program. 20 In the upcoming budget proposal, the Trump administration is expected to slash funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy by about 95 percent, eliminating these two federal grant programs, among others. 21
  • Poison Control Center Program. This program provides funding to improve access to quality poison control treatment and prevention services.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants. These funds help provide clean water, pollution control and the safe management of hazardous waste in Kentucky. Currently about a third of the Kentucky environmental protection staff is paid for with federal EPA funds. 22

Assistance to Vulnerable Kentuckians

As a high-poverty state with one of the nation’s fastest growing aging populations, Kentucky has large numbers of people in need of assistance with housing and aging supports. Like other areas of the state budget, these services have experienced cuts in recent years and additional cuts to federal programs that serve our most vulnerable Kentuckians could cause harmful reductions in critical services.

The following federal NDD programs help some of the most vulnerable Kentuckians:

  • Battered Women’s Shelters
  • Developmental Disabilities
  • Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities
  • Homeless Mental Health
  • Services for Older Blind Individuals
  • Mental Health Block Grant
  • Emergency Food and Shelter Program
  • Public Housing
  • Refugee Assistance
  • Sexual Assault Services
  • Runaway and Homeless Youth
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance (slated for elimination in President Trump’s “skinny budget”)
  • Community Development Block Grant (can be used to fund Meals on Wheels as well as a wide range of other community development needs, including repairs to a historically African American community center in Mount Sterling) 23
  • Administration on Aging Support Services; Administration on Aging Home Delivered Meals; Administration on Aging Congregate Meals

Workforce and Economic Development

Kentucky also faces serious needs for worker training and job creation. The state’s unemployment rate has improved but is still higher than it was in 2000. The economic challenges are particularly deep in the eastern part of our state. In 62 of the state’s 120 counties the unemployment rate is higher now than in 2007. 24

  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds provide employment and training services for adults, dislocated workers and youth through formula grants to states. WIOA also funds adult education and literacy programs and vocational rehabilitation state grant programs that assist those with disabilities in obtaining employment.
  • The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) makes important investments in economic opportunities, workforce development, infrastructure, natural and cultural assets, and leadership and community capacity in Kentucky (as well as other states in the region). The “skinny budget” proposed completely eliminating this agency. 25
  • The POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative has recently provided funding through ARC and a number of other federal agencies and offices to address the economic crisis faced by communities and workers reliant on the coal economy. In 2016, Kentucky received 4 of these grants, totaling around $14.8 million. 26 One of these projects provides training and employment opportunities in Information Technology (IT) careers to young adults who are out of school and older adults who are unemployed, laid-off or underemployed; this workforce development initiative will train 200 new workers, create 160 jobs and bolster sectors that require a skilled IT workforce in 23 eastern Kentucky counties. Another project provides retraining and entrepreneurial assistance to dislocated coal workers, creating 200 new jobs and 100 new enterprises as well as serving 500 existing businesses and bringing $12 million in leveraged financing to a 54-county region in Eastern Kentucky.

The “skinny budget” proposed rolling back funding that benefits coal miners and their communities, which according to a recent policy brief “would stunt economic revitalization where it is needed, and additional cuts to other assistance programs would compound the economic challenges facing coal communities and the families who call them home.” 27

Cultural Enrichment Opportunities

State budget cuts have already limited funding for the state’s libraries and the arts. Additional federal budget cuts in these areas would only worsen the situation.

  • Federal NDD programs include National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, the State Library Program and the Historic Preservation Fund.

Upcoming Budget Proposal

President Trump’s previously released “skinny budget” for 2018 proposed cuts to NDD programs — an approximately 15 percent cut in NDD programs outside of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security — and even the elimination of many programs entirely to offset a $54 billion increase in defense spending. 28 The President’s full budget proposal is expected to be released next week and will likely include funding levels for defense and non-defense programs overall for years beyond 2018. Although some of what was outlined in the “skinny budget” will change, big cuts to NDD funding are expected. Harmful cuts to important mandatory safety net programs are also expected be included in the full proposal, as well as further details on the President’s tax plan, which would give massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.

Click to see a list of discretionary federal grants received by Kentucky in 2015.


  1. Paul M. Krawzak, “Trump Wants $800 Billion, 10-Year Cut in Entitlement Programs,” Roll Call, May 15, 2017,
  2. Kentucky Department of Education, “Readiness Results Highlight Need for Quality Early Learning,” News Release, December 7, 2016, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, “Excellence with Equity: It’s Everybody’s Business,” August 2016, High school diploma/GED attainment data is from the Working Poor Families Project.
  3. Ashley Spalding, “Tuition Ceilings Announced,” Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, March 31, 2017,
  4. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and Lauren Bauer, “The Long-Term Impact of the Head Start Program,” The Brookings Institution, August 19, 2016,
  5. Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, “New Report Shows Benefits of Kentuckians Earning GED Diplomas,” News Release, September 19, 2016,
  6. Judith Scott-Clayton and Veronica Mina, “Should Student Employment Be Subsidized? Conditional Counterfactuals and the Outcomes of Work-Study Participation,” National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2014,
  7. Greg Anrig, “Lessons From School Improvement Grants That Worked,” The Century Foundation, July 23, 2015,
  8. Kentucky Department of Education, “School Improvement Grants (SIG),”
  9. Mike Marsee, “Making Coding More Friendly,” Kentucky 21st Century Community Learning Centers, September 9, 2016,
  10. Deborah Yetter, “Feds Rip Kentucky Child Protection System,” Courier-Journal, February 23, 2017, John Cheves, “Child Abuse and Neglect up 55 Percent in Kentucky Since 2012,” Lexington Herald-Leader, February 3, 2017,
  11. Karen Schulman and Helen Blank, “Red Light Green Light: State Child Care Assistance Policies 2016,” National Women’s Law Center,
  12. Administration for Children and Families, “Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services: 2016 Planned Use of Funding by State and Service Category,”
  13. Louisville Metro Health Start, “Healthy Start,”
  14. Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, “2017 Early Childhood Profile,”
  15. Kaiser Family Foundation, “Health Status,” State Health Facts, State Health Access Data Assistance Center, “Final Report: Study of the Impact of the ACA Implementation in Kentucky,” February 2017,
  16. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Drug Overdose Death Data,”
  17. James Bruggers, “Kentucky Braces for Big Trump EPA Cuts,” Courier-Journal, March 3, 2017,
  18. Health Resources and Services Administration, “Active Grants for HRSA Program(s): Black Lung/Coal Miner Clinics Program,” 2016,
  19. National HIDTA Assistance Center, “HIDTA Counties by State,”
  20. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “SAMHSA – Fiscal Year 2015 Discretionary Funds,”
  21. Alan Rappeport, “White House Proposes Cutting Drug Control Office Funding by 95%,” The New York Times, May 5, 2017,
  22. James Bruggers, “Kentucky Braces for Big Trump EPA Cuts,” Courier-Journal, March 3, 2017,
  23.  Jose A. DelReal, “Trump Asked African Americans What They Had to Lose. For This Rural Kentucky Community, the Answer Is Tangible,” The Washington Post, April 7, 2017,
  24. Anna Baumann and Jason Bailey, “The State of Working Kentucky 2016,” Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, August 2016,
  25. Renee’ Marcum-Losey, “Trump Budget Beats Up on Appalachia,” Courier-Journal, March 17, 2017,
  26. The White House, “Fact Sheet: Administration Announces New Economic and Workforce Development Resources for Coal Communities through POWER Initiative,” August 24, 2016,
  27. Ashley Spalding, “Important Federal Investments in Kentucky’s Coal Communities at Risk,” Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, April 28, 2017, Luke Bassett and Jason Walsh, “The Trump Budget Cuts Hit Coal Communities and Workers Where It Hurts,” Center for American Progress, April 24, 2017,
  28. Jason Bailey, “Trump Budget Eliminations Would Be Major Hit to Kentucky,” Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, March 21, 2017,