By Sarah Ahmed
President Trump has been in office for less than a week and has already begun moving towards many of his campaign’s promises — including his vow to reduce federal spending by approximately 1 trillion dollars a year.
For many Americans, this is cause for celebration. After all, the federal deficit is currently at $587 billion, and surely, analyzing smart ways to tighten the belt could only lead to positives that will hopefully trickle down.
But here’s the point of contention: Many of the areas Trump’s reportedly looking to tighten would lead to the scrapping of 17 different federal agencies — agencies that support environmental interests, civil rights, and the arts (to name a few). Things like the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the Office of Violence Against Women.
And last but certainly not least, things like the public broadcasting system (PBS).
Yes, that PBS.
The PBS that’s home to some of our kids’ most beloved shows (not to mention some of our own — ahem, Downton Abbey). The one that brings them Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Curious George.
Even more important to note is that for every single dollar that’s given to public broadcasting, local stations use that money to earn $6 more from public support. More than 70% of the CPB’s budget goes toward funding 1,500 locally-owned and publicly funded radio and television stations around the U.S. It’s also what brings us National Public Radio (NPR). The core goal of CPB has always been to serve local communities and, according to their website, “shield stations from political influence” as well as “deliver federal support in a way that does not affect a station’s ability to operate independently.”
According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting:
“The federal investment in public media is vital seed money — especially for stations located in rural America, and those serving underserved populations where the appropriation counts for 40-50% of their budget. The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect.”
And that’s definitely not an understatement. The truth is, there are many, many, many ways that CPB affects the daily lives of Americans. But for the sake of brevity — and the sake of our kids — I can’t help but keep focusing on just one: Is saving an extra $1.35 a year really worth short-changing our children?
PBS gets $26 million in funding from CPB, which in turn helps produce more than 1,200 hours of cultural and educational kids’ programming each year. And it’s not like no one’s watching — according to PBS, an average of 68% of all children between the ages of 2-8 watched a PBS show in 2015-16, and it was the most watched network amongst low-income families.
The PBS Network is a beloved but undervalued product of the American media and garners 95 million local viewers monthly.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s clearly a need to cut down on federal spending. And some might argue that it has to come from somewhere, whether we like it or not.
When you consider the places we actually can cut, the task becomes (understandably) even more daunting. The U.S. Treasury categorizes federal spending into three categories of either mandatory spending (about 65% of the budget), discretionary spending (about 29% of the budget), and interest on federal debt (about 6% of the budget).
Mandatory spending includes programs like Medicare, Social Security, etc. and Trump has already tweeted his commitment to not cut into their budgets. Therefore, the bulk of his spending cuts will have to come from discretionary spending budgets. Roughly 53% of the discretionary budget (that’s about $582 billion per year) gets allocated to the military and defense funds and the new administration has already promised to increase their budgets. Hence, the reason Trump is setting his sights on spending areas that could be considered non-essentials.
But all things considered, the irreconcilable decision to defund and privatize the Corporation of Public Broadcasting will have far-reaching repercussions. Ones that saving a measly $1.37 a year doesn’t really seem to justify, if you ask me.
I mean, is $1.37 really too much to ask for to preserve a network that provides America’s children with high-quality educational shows — and brings their parents unbiased, trusted, well-researched news coverage?
I’m just not so sure.
For now, I’ll be letting my kids watch all the Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger they can handle, and hope this doesn’t come to pass.