Proposed budget offers something for everyone

Posted: Thursday, March 01, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Soldiers would collect slightly bigger paychecks, nature lovers would get cleaner national parks and poor people would get more help paying for energy.

Under President Bush's proposed budget, some students specializing in math and science could forget about repaying their college loans, if they're willing to teach at a needy high school.

And the disabled would benefit from new services designed to help them lead more independent lives.

Bush's first budget appears to offer something to just about everyone, including immigrants who now spend years waiting for the government to help them. He's proposing to speed up services for them.

But there's also some pain to go along with the gains.

A program to get drugs out of public housing would be eliminated. Bush said it had limited impact and other measures are more successful, such as evicting drug dealers.

Bush wants to cut off federal flood insurance to owners of several thousand low-lying properties that require repeated rebuilding from floods.

The president would save $25 million by eliminating Project Impact, a Federal Emergency Management Agency program that helps communities take steps to reduce damage from natural disasters -- such as the powerful earthquake that shook the Northwest on Wednesday.

Soldiers are promised a modest, across-the-board pay increase beyond those in effect or scheduled. But the increase does not appear to be as large as Bush indicated during the campaign.

Bush sets aside $400 million for that purpose, which could give the nation's 1.42 million enlisted personnel an average of $290 more in a year. He would spend much more than that to recruit soldiers and give bonuses to retain those with special skills.

During the campaign, Bush suggested he'd spend $1 billion on salaries alone, financing increases averaging about $750 per person.

The budget also pledges an additional $400 million to make military housing more livable.

National parks, used by more than 250 million people every year, would get a sprucing up. Bush wants to make a $440 million down payment on the estimated $4.9 billion in backlogged maintenance projects on the National Park Service's to-do list.

Low-income people, particularly seniors, the disabled and families with children would get more aid for weatherizing their homes -- adding insulation, installing storm windows or upgrading cooling and heating systems. Bush is setting out to double the money for that purpose to $1.4 billion over 10 years.

There's other assistance, too, for the more than 54 million Americans with disabilities.

Bush would spend more than $1 billion to help them with mobility and technology. He's proposing incentives to assist some in working at home and others in getting to the office.

The president also wants to let disabled people who collect federal rental assistance use up to a year's worth of the vouchers for a down payment on a home.

Teachers who spend their own money on school supplies stand to benefit, too. They'd get a tax deduction of up to $400 for such expenses.

For college students, Bush would forgive up to $17,500 in loans, up from $5,000, for math and science majors who agree to teach those subjects for five years at high schools in special need of good teachers.

Bush also proposes spending an additional $1 billion on Pell Grants for needy college students. Education Secretary Rod Paige said last week that Bush wants to increase the maximum grant by more than half, to $5,100, for first-year students. The current maximum is $3,300.

Elementary school pupils would be the beneficiaries of $5 billion in new spending over five years to make sure they know how to read by third grade.

Teaching them good character would cost another $25 million.

For immigrants, Bush wants the Immigration and Naturalization Service to process their applications faster, in six months or less.

To that end, he proposes spending $100 million a year over the next five years to hire staff and provide employee incentives geared to customer satisfaction.

At the same time, he asked Congress for $150 million over the next two years to hire 1,140 new Border Patrol agents to help keep illegal immigrants out.

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