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Setti Warren, Barney Frank talk block grants in Newton

Posted by Sarah Thomas  March 14, 2011 03:12 PM

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Newton Mayor Setti Warren said today that preserving funding for Community Development Block Grants - which were cut by 66 percent in the budget most recently passed by the House - is one of the reasons he's considering a run for Scott Brown's US Senate seat.

"I am seriously considering a run because I believe that issues like the budget are places where Senator Brown hasn't represented our best interests," Warren said after a roundtable meeting at the Newton Community Service Center. Warren also said he would be in Washington later this week to discuss budget issues.

Warren was joined at the meeting by US Representative Barney Frank, who declined to comment on whether he would endorse Warren for Senate.

"It's way too early to discuss candidates. People don't want to hear about elections all year long," Frank said. "I'd rather talk about substance."

The roundtable was attended by a large audience that spilled out into the halls to hear testimonials from Newton civic leaders and residents about the important role Community Development Block Grants play in the city.

"What we hope happens here is that people get activated," Warren said. "Get involved, write to your senators and congressmen. Tell the stories loud and clear about how the services provided by these grants have helped you."

The Community Development Block Grant program dates back to the Nixon administration. Cities and towns with over 50,000 residents are given a set amount of money to use as discretionary funding for community programming. For smaller cities and towns, funds are disbursed at the state's discretion.

In the budget most recently passed by the House, which currently has a Republican majority, the grants were cut by 66 percent. That budget is unlikely to be passed by the Senate, which has a slight Democrat majority, Frank said.

"It needs 60 votes, and the way things are now, if the building was on fire, they couldn't get 60 votes to adjourn before dying of asphyxiation," Frank said.

Nonetheless, Warren and Frank said that investing in the program was an important issue that could be done without increasing the federal deficit.

"We're not talking about increasing the deficit, we're talking about shifting our priorities," Frank said. "If we can build infrastructure in Kabul and Kandahar and dedicate money toward a mission to Mars, but not keep firefighters on the street, our money is in the wrong place."

Newton receives $2.4 million in Community Development Block Grant funds annually, which are used to fund a host of positions, programs, and initiatives across the city. Representatives from some of those organizations spoke at the meeting, including Newton Senior Services, the Newton Community Service Center, and the Newton-Wellesley-Weston Committee for Community Living, among others.

"Without Community Development Block Grant funds, we wouldn't hear the stories of people who lose a loved one being able to make a new life for themselves, or people facing eviction learning how many options they have," said Jayne Colino, Director of Newton Senior Services. "We wouldn't be the community we are today."

Newton Senior Services receives $51,500 from the Community Development Block Grant program, which they use to fund several staff positions.

"Being against Community Development Block Grants is like being against apple pie," said Jon Firger, executive director at Newton Community Service Center. "It just doesn't make sense."

Several people who had been benefited by the grants also spoke at the roundtable. One of them was Domenica Rizza, a single mother of two sons who used the Community Service Center's day care while she was working full time and is now continuing her education.

"I can't say enough about what these programs did for me and my family," Rizza said. "They are letting me make a better life for my kids."

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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