The cost of being a sanctuary city in Trump’s USA

President-elect Donald Trump  (yes, it pains me to write that) has stated that in his first 100 days in office he will cancel all federal funding to “sanctuary cities” such as Seattle, where by ordinance city employees may not inquire into a person’s immigration status (except in specific law-enforcement circumstances).  Yesterday Mayor Ed Murray held a press conference, in which he stated that Seattle will continue to be a sanctuary city, even if it loses federal funding.

So how much is at stake?

This afternoon I crawled through the city’s budget. I found $99 million in accepted federal grants in 2016, and an expectation of $65 million in 2017 and $174 million in 2018.

Here’s the full spreadsheet.

The big loser would be SDOT; it stands to lose $10.2 million in 2017 and $118.3 million in 2018. And actually, it’s much worse, because SDOT is counting on another $75 million in next year’s as-yet-unapproved federal budget for the new Center City Streetcar line that it hasn’t added to the city’s official budget yet. But SDOT would also lose almost $55 million  for the South Lander Street overpass, $10 million for the Broadway streetcar extension, $8 million for bridge repair and replacement, $4.2 million for the electrification of Metro bus route 48, and almost $77 million in miscellaneous funds for operating and maintaining transportation corridors in the city in 2017 and the years beyond.

The Human Services Department (HSD) would also be hit hard, losing around $40 million in 2017 and again in 2018. $14 million (annually) is a grant from HUD’s McKinney program to provide assistance for the homeless. Millions of dollars are for programs to help the elderly. Others provide emergency shelters, housing assistance for survivors of domestic violence, emergency and summer food support for children, and Medicaid case management. All told, there are currently 34 separate federal grants that HSD depends on — you can see the full list in this document on pages 206-208.

Seattle Center would lose about $2 million related to upkeep of the monorail.

Seattle City Light would lose $6 million a year of federal subsidies on debt service it pays.

The Office of Housing would lose about $5.5 million per year from programs designed to assist with weatherization of existing affordable housing (so people can stay in them rather than be forced to sell and move) and from low-income housing programs.

For Trump’s administration to do this would be wrong. By law, immigration status isn’t a matter for local or state governments; it’s a federal issue. That’s the same reason why states and cities can’t ban Syrian refugees. And there’s already an exception in Seattle’s ordinance for law enforcement. But more to the point, it’s utterly heartless because it asks us to directly pit the interests of one set of Seattle residents against those of another. As the Mayor put it yesterday in his press conference (with Council members Lorena Gonzalez and Debora Juarez by his side):

“It is important because these are our neighbors, and we will continue to support our neighbors. That’s what community is about. We can’t allow ourselves to be divided and sorted out. That’s not America. It’s simply not. I think by continuing to be a sanctuary city, we are doing the most American thing that we could possibly do. You know, it’s said many, many times, but we are a nation of immigrants. My grandparents came to this country. Lorena’s parents came to this country. Jesus Aguirre, our parks director, came to this country. This is who we are. We can’t back away from that value.”

Let’s hope that as with so many other things, Trump is lying. Or that the courts find that he simply doesn’t have the power to cancel funding, since Congress writes the budget and the President still doesn’t have a line-item veto.

In the meantime, though, Murray should give up hope that his declaration of a State of Emergency on homelessness will draw any additional federal funds. And it will be interesting to see whether this new reality tempers the City Council’s desire to add more spending into the 2017-2018 budget. Even before the election, the city’s officials were predicting some lean years coming soon; Trump may have just accelerated that schedule.

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