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The Cost of Trump’s Wall Compared to the Value of the Programs He’s Proposing to Cut

Posted on Mar 20, 2017

By Joe Sexton / ProPublica

Peter M Graham / CC BY-NC 2.0

The fiscal 2018 price for President Trump’s border wall is in: $2.6 billion. That’s a cost to U.S. taxpayers, not a cost many people any longer think will be picked up by the Mexican government.

As first installments go, it’s a pretty big number. Indeed, its size can be appreciated in one powerful way by setting it against some of the many budget cuts Trump proposed this week.

One year of spending on a border wall is the equal of, well, the federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting plus the $231 million given to the country’s libraries and museums plus the $366 million that goes to legal help for the poor.

Actually, the tab is nearly three times the cost of those combined budgets.

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The federal government could increase the annual combined spending on the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities by 900 percent or so and still not get to the $2.6 billion.

It’s worth noting the $2.6 billion will not actually go toward the big, permanent wall the president has committed to. That’s forecast to be around 10 times the $2.6 billion. The $2.6 billion will go to build a bunch of smaller walls and patch holes in the assortment of fences that now exist.

All these numbers confusing you? Wish you were better at math?

The $2.6 billion is more than twice the annual costs of 21st Century Community Learning Centers created across the country to fund programs run before and after school and throughout the summer. You could actually throw in the $190 million spent on teaching students with disabilities and limited English proficiency and still not match the wall costs.

The wall, of course, is supposed to protect Americans from the cheap labor making its way illegally into the country. It might strike some as odd that, while investing in the wall, the administration has opted to disinvest in a variety of economic programs. The Economic Development Administration’s $221 million budget is wiped out in Trump’s plan. Ditto the $434 million dedicated annually to job training for older low-income people. And the $119 million aimed every year at 420 economically depressed counties in Appalachia.

Had enough of this? Weary of politics and partisanship? Sick of talking about the wall? Want to get away from it all?

There are plenty of options, of course. What there won’t be anymore, under the Trump budget, are the $20 million spent on National Heritage Areas or the $13.2 million spent on the National Wildlife Refuge Fund.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.


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