- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Members of Congress, mayors and local lawmakers have said proposed budget cuts and jurisdictional changes for the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program would hurt urban centers, but Bush administration officials maintain that the moves would make it easier for communities to obtain and distribute funds.

President Bush’s plan would move CDBG and 17 other community development grant programs out of five agencies and place them under the Department of Commerce. It would fund the programs at $3.7 billion, which critics say is 35 percent lower than the current budget.

The goal is to improve accountability, said Sandy Baruah, chief of staff for the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration.

“You can look at any project in any community from wastewater treatment to community centers, and that can be tracked,” Mr. Baruah said. “What we cannot glean is if these projects have had an impact towards their intended goals to reduce poverty.”

He said some economically distressed communities that have received grants for the past 30 years continue to exhibit high poverty rates.

“The president’s proposal is to spend more money in areas of greatest distress and have [local officials] use it in such a way to move people from poverty,” Mr. Baruah said.

He said community groups and elected officials will find it easier to apply for grants and receive funds with one clearinghouse.

But opponents said poverty reduction was never the intention of the block grant program. County and local officials have used the funding to eliminate blight and prevent communities from becoming financially distressed.

Some argued that the administration is trying to redefine the program to justify cuts.

“No cuts and no move,” said members of the National League of Cities who rallied support on Capitol Hill last week.

“The CDBG program brings millions of dollars into our communities — not just federal dollars but federal dollars leveraged with private funding that support our total economic efforts,” said D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, president of the National League of Cities.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors said the changes would only eliminate community block grants or alter the identity of the programs.

“This new proposal is totally unacceptable, and we are extremely disappointed that this tactic is being used as an excuse to eliminate CDBG and cut much-needed resources to local communities,” said Akron, Ohio, Mayor Don Plusquellic, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have opposed the consolidation and the cuts.

“I fully support the administration’s goal of halving the deficit by 2009, but am deeply concerned some cuts to domestic spending will be to the detriment of our urban areas,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican.

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