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Saturday, March 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Four topics President Trump tackled in the State of the Union and how they affect Spokane

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 30, 2018

President Donald Trump delivered the first State of the Union address of his term to Congress on Tuesday night, and much of what he said could have signficant implications for the Inland Northwest.

Here’s a look at a few of the topics Trump addressed and how they affect local residents.

Immigration

Trump reiterated in his address that he’s interested in a deal to provide a path of citizenship to the children of immigrants brought illegally to the United States in exchange for stepped up immigration enforcement measures.

Ending a program that protects the children of immigrants brought illegally to the United States would potentially affect thousands of people living in Washington and Idaho.

A brokered deal to continue the program between leading Democrats and Republicans in the Senate was scuttled by Trump in the run-up to a vote on a three-week spending deal that reopened the government after a brief shutdown last week.

Senate Republicans, as part of an exchange for the votes to reopen the government, promised to address immigration policy. Trump has expressed willingness to entertain a path to citizenship for so-called “dreamers,” children of immigrants brought illegally to the United States and allowed to remain as a result of a federal program initiated in 2012 by President Barack Obama.

Several area colleges and universities have urged lawmakers to pass a long-term solution for students who rely on the program to remain in the country for studies. Presidents at Washington State University, Eastern Washington University and Whitworth University have all signed a letter calling for expansion of the program “as a moral imperative and a national necessity.” Gonzaga University President Thayne McCullough signed a letter, along with other Jesuit institutions across the United States, calling for retention of the program.

Students also have rallied in support of the program, which was targeted by Trump on the campaign trail. In November 2016, there were about 200 undocumented students attending EWU in Cheney.

While Trump has set a deadline of March 8 to end the program, the Department of Homeland Security is processing applications for renewal in compliance with a federal court order requiring the program to continue, for now.

In Washington state, more than 18,000 people have been approved for initial protection status as dreamers through September, the most recent month for which the Homeland Security Department has statistics. In addition, more than 19,700 renewal applications have been approved.

In Idaho, about 3,100 initial applications have been approved. Roughly the same number of renewals have also been OK’d.

Health care

Both Washington and Idaho saw enrollment numbers jump on their state exchanges this year, despite signals in the nation’s capital that changes are on the horizon.

A record 242,000 Washington residents signed up for coverage through the state’s health benefit exchange this year, according to state officials. Of those customers, 14,600 were in Spokane County. The number of people seeking coverage through the exchange in Washington state has continued to climb since the exchange was launched following passage of Obama’s signature health care law in 2010.

In Idaho, nearly 102,000 residents signed up for coverage, an increase of about 7,000 people over last year’s total.

Tax reforms passed by Congress at the end of last year did away with the Affordable Care Act’s requirement people obtain health insurance or receive a tax penalty. Trump called the provision “cruel” in his speech. That measure takes effect in 2019. The Congressional Budget Office reported in November the change would reduce government spending on subsidies by about $338 billion over the next 10 years, but would also lead to about 13 million fewer people insured by 2027.

Economy

Trump touted the nation’s improving economy in his speech, though there are questions about how much credit the president deserves for the turnaround.

The president, in response to a CNN interview with rapper Jay-Z, took to Twitter earlier this week to point out that the black unemployment rate is the lowest its ever been. National news outlets quickly pointed out that unemployment rates, across all ethnic groups, have been falling since hitting a spike early in 2010, on the heels of the Great Recession.

In Spokane, the unemployment rate fell to an average of 5.5 percent in 2017, down a percentage point from the year before. An additional 5,200 jobs were added in the metro area last year, but that continued a trend that began in 2014.

There have been reports of businesses, both local and national, using the proceeds of a corporate tax cut pushed by Trump and the Republican Party to reinvest in their companies and workers. INB, a Spokane-based banking firm, announced in January it would increase starting wages and hand out raises and bonuses to about 200 workers as a result of the legislation.

FedEx and Starbucks announced the same intention earlier this month, a development emphasized by Republicans facing 2018 midterm contests, among them Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane.

Infrastructure

Trump called for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package in his speech, after promising on the campaign trail to focus on the nation’s crumbling highway system and bridges.

The details aren’t finalized, but any federal money made available for the region’s roads likely would be pursued according to a list of regional transportation needs identified by the Spokane Regional Transportation Council.

The agency lists what it calls short-term and long-term capital projects. The short-term items are expected to be built by 2024, long-term needs would be targeted for construction by 2040.

Among the short-term projects currently on the list, included is straightening and widening Bigelow Gulch and Forker roads north of Spokane and Spokane County to provide a freight corridor, which has drawn some environmental and legal concerns since being proposed in the mid-2000s. Longer-term projects include rapid Spokane Transit Authority bus service on Division Street.

In total, the plan includes projects costing a potential $1.7 billion dollars through 2040. If more federal money is available through Trump’s plan, the projects on that list would likely compete for whatever cash is available through competitive bidding processes, said Staci Lehman, a spokeswoman for the transportation council.

“We’d be looking at what’s best for the region,” Lehman said. “It depends on what the parameters are. We would probably go by the list.”

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