Chicago Sun-Times - - NEWS - Email: mark­brown@sun­ MARK BROWN @MarkBrownCST

The prob­lems that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pro­posed fed­eral bud­get would cause for Chicago ex­tend far beyond the Meals on Wheels pro­gram that so far has re­ceived most of the at­ten­tion.

As I ex­plained in Sun­day’s col­umn, the $ 3 bil­lion Com­mu­nity Devel­op­ment Block Grant pro­gram that Trump would elim­i­nate pro­vides $ 1.8 mil­lion— or 20 per­cent— of the $ 8.6 mil­lion the city spends on its ver­sion of Meals on Wheels.

That’s not fake news. That’s a real cut that could se­verely im­pact a vi­tal ser­vice that brings nu­tri­tious meals to 8,000 needy se­niors a year.

But it’s also just a frac­tion of the city’s to­tal ex­pected $ 81 mil­lion CDBG al­lot­ment for 2017. Take away that money en­tirely, as Trump pro­poses, and you poke a painful hole in nu­mer­ous other city social ser­vice ef­forts.

In ad­di­tion to home- de­liv­ered meals to se­niors, Chicago plans to use this year’s $ 72 mil­lion CDBG al­lot­ment to pay for ad­di­tional ser­vices for the el­derly, as well as for in­di­vid­u­als who are home­less, dis­abled or di­ag­nosed with HIV/ AIDS.

CDBG money is an im­por­tant fund­ing source for men­tal health, cri­sis in­ter­ven­tion and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence ser­vices in Chicago.

An­other por­tion of the money is used to­ward the city’s var­i­ous ef­forts to cre­ate and pre­serve af­ford­able hous­ing, as well as screen­ing for lead poi­son­ing and de­mo­li­tion of va­cant build­ings.

On top of ze­ro­ing out the CDBG pro­gram, Trump would also elim­i­nate the Com­mu­nity Ser­vices Block Grant, from which the city re­ceives an­other $ 13 mil­lion to use in sim­i­lar ways.

The city has yet to tally up the to­tal im­pact of the Trump bud­get cuts, and it’s cer­tainly pos­si­ble they will never need to do so, given that many be­lieve Congress will mostly ig­nore the pres­i­dent’s spend­ing plan.

But it’s not too early to be­gin dis­abus­ing those who choose to be­lieve there is no con­se­quence to strip­ping away these fund­ing sources.

Home­less pro­grams alone re­ceive nearly $ 9 mil­lion a year from the city through the CDBG pro­gram, said Julie Dworkin, pol­icy di­rec­tor at Chicago Coali­tion for the Home­less.

Al­though that’s only a por­tion of to­tal city spend­ing on home­less pro­grams, elim­i­nat­ing CDBG funds would likely cause ad­di­tional dis­tress for emer­gency shel­ters al­ready hurt­ing from the state’s bud­get woes while also un­der­cut­ting the city’s ef­forts to pre­vent home­less­ness.

“We’re def­i­nitely very con­cerned about it,” Dworkin said, not­ing that there is no other source to re­place the fund­ing that would be lost.

“This would just be gone. They would have to cut it,” she said.

Heather O’Don­nell, vice pres­i­dent of pub­lic pol­icy for Thresh­olds, one of Chicago’s key men­tal health ser­vice providers, said her agency re­ceives sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars in CDBG monies to pro­vide sup­port­ive hous­ing to peo­ple with se­vere men­tal ill­ness.

“The cuts at every level just ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lems we al­ready have,” O’Don­nell said.

The idea be­hind fed­eral block grants is to send money to states and lo­cal govern­ments in a lump sum that they can spend as they choose within cer­tain pa­ram­e­ters.

CDBG money is dis­trib­uted ac­cord­ing to a for­mula based on pop­u­la­tion and other mea­sures of need. Funds are sup­posed to be used mainly for the ben­e­fit of per­sons with and low and mod­er­ate in­comes.

We could prob­a­bly ar­gue over whether cer­tain ex­pen­di­tures are the best use of fed­eral money, and some of the other ser­vices prob­a­bly wouldn’t be as pop­u­lar with the pub­lic as Meals on Wheels.

But I’ve al­ways thought it made sense to let lo­cal govern­ments de­cide their own pri­or­i­ties on how to spend fed­eral money.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­gues the CDBG pro­gram “is not well- tar­geted to the poor­est pop­u­la­tions and has not demon­strated re­sults.”

Trump wants to use the money he would save from these pro­grams for a mil­i­tary buildup.

To bor­row a phrase from Trump bud­get di­rec­tor Mick Mul­vaney, mil­i­tary buildups “sound great”— if you’re a de­fense con­trac­tor.

“THE CUTS AT EVERY LEVEL JUST EX­AC­ER­BATE THE PROB­LEMS WE AL­READY HAVE.” HEATHER O’DON­NELL, vice pres­i­dent of pub­lic pol­icy for Thresh­olds, a Chicago men­tal health ser­vice provider


Mick Mul­vaney, di­rec­tor of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, talks to re­porters last week.

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