WASHINGTON – Local government leaders said Wednesday that the federal government’s $3.3 billion community block grant development program provides critical funding for cities and counties and asked for signatures to a letter to go to federal lawmakers urging them not to slash it.
The so-called “skinny” budget for fiscal 2018 proposed by President Trump last month would eliminate the 43-year old program, which allocates funds to more than 7,000 urban, suburban, and rural communities on a formula basis that can be used for affordable housing, infrastructure development, anti-poverty initiatives, services to the elderly, and other programs.
During a conference call sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors on the third day of National Community Development Week, Tom Cochran, the group’s chief executive officer and executive director, said the CDBG program has been “infused in local governments since 1974” when city officials worked with former Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford to put the program together.
Trump’s proposal “would cause a great devastation to city budgets as we have worked to come out of the greatest recession since the great depression,” said Cochran, adding, “We’re very concerned about this and we’ll use every muscle we have to stop the elimination of this program.”
Steve Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, S.C., USCM second vice president, and chair of the advocacy group Municipal Bonds for America, said CDBGs are “one of the most effective tools in America” and that it would be “wrong-headed” and “foolish” to eliminate the grant program.
He said Columbia is using some grant money for a project to demolish and redevelop and revitalize the 280-unit Gonzales Gardens apartment complex into a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood project.
“Losing CDBGs would significantly cripple this $60 million development,” he said during the call when asked if elimination of the grant program would threaten existing projects.
Roy Brooks, NACo first vice president and commissioner of Tarrant County, Texas, said, “I think the [CDBG] program is being targeted because it’s a large number.” But the program “creates big benefits for communities across this country” and “perhaps [the administration] should use a scalpel instead of a meat axe.”