Faced with yet another cut to federal money that cities and towns can direct toward food banks, beautification and other priorities, mayors and congressmen on Monday called for a restoration of funds to the Community Development Block Grant program.
“We know that as this economy shows some signs of life, it’s absolutely critical that the people that are most vulnerable are able to continue to contribute to communities and to our economy, no matter where you are,” Newton Mayor Setti Warren said during remarks at a Boys and Girls Club in Newton that were broadcast Monday morning in a national conference call.
The result of a 2011 fracas over whether to raise the country’s debt ceiling, a law that began March 1, sequestered spending across government, sending the funds to pay down debt. President Barack Obama has proposed further cuts to the program in his budget.
Warren and others rejected the notion that a cut in the CDBG funding could lead to more efficiencies.
“If you mean that you’re going to service fewer kids in afterschool programs, I guess some people might see that as more efficiency. I would see it as bad government and bad policy,” Congressman Michael Capuano said. He said, “If you mean we’re going to service fewer people in food pantries, I guess you could call that more efficient, but I wouldn’t call it that. So I guess it’s the eye of the beholder. For me, less is not more. Less is less. And if that’s what society wants, unfortunately, that’s what they’re about to get with the CDBG program.”
Warren, who is the community development and housing chairman for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and Capuano, who was the mayor of Somerville through the 1990s and is co-chairman of the Congressional Former Mayor’s Caucus, were joined by the mayors of Allentown, Penn., and Salt Lake City in the call for restoring money for the program.
The grant program is available to fund “viable urban communities,” by making housing available and improving quality of life issues for the benefit of low and moderate income people, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has run the program since it was signed into law in 1974. Capuano said when he was mayor he used the money for improvements to crosswalks to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to the conference, the CDBG budget was $3.3 billion before the sequester; it was reduced to $3 billion by the sequester; and Obama has proposed knocking it down to $2.8 billion.
“Congress seems to be oblivious… to this critical need of those most vulnerable,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who noted Congress had restored funding after cuts led to long lines at airports.
“Congress has been willing to address for example, the problem of the delays that happened in the airline world for travelers, and maybe that’s because it affects some of their constituents who have the loudest voices, and themselves and those of us who travel by air,” Becker said, noting that Utah’s Senate delegation believes the program “makes sense,” though it may not be “important enough for them to address.”
Capuano and others said the money was a bargain for the work it does, which varies depending on how the city or town chooses to spend it.
“It’s a very small amount, but I think it provides the greatest good for the least amount of money in Washington,” said Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.
“It’s a complete surprise to me, I guess I can’t say a shock, but a surprise that the federal government would have CDBG funding lapse by over a billion dollars from 2010,” Congressman Joe Kennedy said. Kennedy who praised Capuano as a leader in seeking CDBG funding, said, “We’re going to continue to keep fighting.”