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Trump’s Gifts to Himself

A multi-million dollar tax windfall isn’t the only gift President Trump handed himself and his family this year—and Americans have picked up the tab:

—The Administration illegally blocked a pesticide ban that lobbyists representing President Trump’s golf club managers opposed.  In 2016, EPA experts determined that every use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos is harmful and issued a proposed rule revoking all previously-issued “tolerances” of its use, including on golf courses to limit mosquitoes.  Originally developed as a nerve gas by Nazi Germany, chlorpyrifos has been found to damage the brain and cause tremors among children.  But the Trump Administration stopped the pending ban in its tracks, and in April 2017, environmental protection groups asked a court to force EPA to act.  The Trump Organization owns or manages 12 golf courses in the United States, and in 2005, Trump gave up on building a course in Westchester, New York after battling community opposition to the project for nine years.  The main subject of the dispute?  Pesticides.

SIDEBAR: In 2016, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America sent a letter to EPA opposing the chlorpyrifos ban, and the group considers preventing pesticide bans a “top priority for GCSAA and its members” in 2017.  The industry lobbying group’s members include managers running President Trump’s golf clubs.

—The Administration illegally rolled back a rule designed to prevent private landlords from using housing vouchers to artificially inflate rents.  In 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued the Small Area Fair Market Rule to help low-income families move to neighborhoods with more opportunities.  As part of the rule, HUD planned to set the value of a public housing voucher by considering rent prices in a neighborhood, rather than an entire city.  By making vouchers more responsive to local market conditions, the rule was designed to decrease housing segregation and prevent landlords in high poverty areas from using the Section 8 program to significantly inflate rents.  But, in August, the Trump Administration rolled back the rule virtually everywhere it applied.  The move will make it harder for children in low-income families to attend higher performing public schools but could boost Jared Kushner’s bottom line.  The President’s son-in-law owns several apartment complexes that have received at least $6.1 million from HUD housing vouchers since 2015.

SIDEBARThe Administration’s gift to landlords wasn’t just bad policy, it also violated federal law. As Open Community Alliance asserts in its suit against the Administration, HUD’s suspension of the Small Area Fair Market Rule violated the Administrative Procedure Act in “multiple ways,” including by failing to provide “new evidence support[ing] its changing of course” and acting “without observance of procedure required by law.”

—President Trump proposed a new rule empowering hotel and restaurant owners to pocket employee tips.  Earlier this month, the Trump Administration announced its plan to rescind a 2011 rule prohibiting employers from unilaterally redistributing tips as a way to avoid increasing wages for non-tipped workers.  But President Trump’s plan doesn’t just eliminate the 2011 wage protections, it makes tipped workers even worse off by explicitly allowing employers to pocket employee tips if they pay tipped workers the minimum wage.  The Trump Organization manages numerous hotels and restaurants, and in 2015 a class action lawsuit was filed against (now) President Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Donald Trump Jr., alleging they violated state labor regulations by illegally withholding the entirety of a 22 percent “service fee” from hotel employees.  The case is pending.

SIDEBAREconomists have estimated employers would pocket $5.8 billion of workers’ tips under the Trump Administration’s proposed rule.  But in their proposal, the Department of Labor provided no analysis of this cost to workers.  The failure to accurately account for the anticipated costs of eliminating the rule could run afoul of regulatory requirements for cost/benefit analysis.

—President Trump is rolling back protections for children exposed to dangerous levels of lead in apartment buildings.  On January 13, 2017, HUD published a rule to protect young children who live in federally-owned or -assisted housing from lead poisoning.  In part, the rule lowered the threshold for when HUD considers a child’s level of lead in their blood to be “elevated,” aligning HUD standards with Centers for Disease Control guidelines.  The rule also established more comprehensive testing and evaluation procedures that require landlords to take action if a child’s blood lead level exceeds those updated standards.  The Trump Administration recently announced they plan to issue an interim final rule to rescind critical elements of these protections.

SIDEBARPresident Trump owns a four percent stake in Starrett City, one of the largest public housing complexes in the country.  The housing complex was built in 1973 and has a project-based housing contract with HUD, making Starrett City subject to the updated lead poisoning protection rule.  Since 2013, the partnership that owns Starrett City has received more than $490 million in subsidies from HUD, including almost $38 million since President Trump took office.

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