- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A bipartisan group of more than 350 mayors is the latest to resist President Trump’s elimination of the Community Development Block Grant Program, which administers $3 billion to states for infrastructure and development projects.

Members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors called on Congress to reject Mr. Trump’s plan to eradicate the block grants during a press conference call on Tuesday and urged that the budget increase to $3.3 billion.

“There’s probably no issue I’m familiar with that has such a strong bipartisan support,” said Bryan Barnett, the Republican mayor of Rolling Hills, Michigan. “Big cities, small cities; we all rely on this very unique tool.”

Thousands of cities and communities across the nation are served through CDBG funds, which are allocated for initiatives ranging from affordable housing to afterschool programs to keep kids off the streets.

But Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has said the program needs to prioritize its funding. Mr. Carson said he expects private-sector collaboration to be part of his HUD agenda in an effort to replace the block grants.

Mr. Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would cut about $6 billion, or 13 percent, of HUD funding in an effort to shift funds from domestic programs and toward defense spending.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors insists that city officials are “audited heavily” each year by HUD officials and are well versed with CDBG compliances. Thus mismanagement of funds, they said, is rare.

“While we understand this is a difficult fiscal decision, we have seen bipartisan support,” said Ed Pawlowski, the Democrat mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania. “We believe it’s a program that needs significantly more funding.”

The CDBG grants, the mayors said, allow flexibility for local officials to provide money to a number of projects, a system that has been in place since 1974. Such projects include small business initiatives, elderly care and homes for those with mental disabilities.

Stephen Benjamin, the conference’s second vice president and the Democratic mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, said CDBG has provided 3,000 jobs and the construction and rehabilitation of 9,000 homes in Charleston.

Frank Ortis, the Democratic mayor of Pembroke Pines, Florida, said he has received 150 new applicants this year for CDBG assistance.

“We take seniors to doctor appointments and dentist appointments,” Mr. Otis said. “How do we tell them we’re not going to be able to do that anymore?”

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