Pro­tect CDBG fund­ing

Pro­gram’s longevity will de­pend in part on en­sur­ing monies are used as in­tended

The Buffalo News - - OPINION -

One of the ad­van­tages of send­ing fed­eral monies to com­mu­ni­ties to deal with poverty is that it em­pow­ers lo­cal lead­ers to al­lo­cate dol­lars where they are most use­ful. In­ter­est­ingly, that ap­proach also counts as one of the prac­tice’s no­table dis­ad­van­tages.

Some­times good in­ten­tions go awry. Other times, there are no good in­ten­tions –just po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tions to use pub­lic monies to fund self-in­ter­est.

What­ever the ex­pla­na­tion, the Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Block Grant pro­gram has not al­ways worked as well as it should. When that hap­pens, in­tended ben­e­fi­cia­ries – poor peo­ple liv­ing in poor ar­eas – are harmed. It is a prac­tice that must end. Oth­er­wise, it will be much harder to de­fend against Pres­i­dent Trump’s push to elim­i­nate the pro­gram.

Trump once again left the $3.3 bil­lion pro­gram out of his bud­get pro­posal. No sur­prise. He did the same thing in 2017. Con­gress re­stored the money and will likely do the same, again. Ei­ther way, the money is des­per­ately needed, al­beit not for mid­dle-class wants and not for frit­ter­ing away.

The pro­gram is al­ready de­clin­ing. Twenty-five years ago, it sent $30 mil­lion a year to Buf­falo. Last year, the city re­ceived only about $13.7 mil­lion.

Buf­falo is a poor city where 31 per­cent of res­i­dents and 47 per­cent of chil­dren live be­low the poverty level.

So, Buf­falo Com­mon Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Dar­ius Prid­gen is right in that the money ben­e­fits dev­as­tated com­mu­ni­ties – ex­cept when it doesn’t.

A Buf­falo News re­port in 2003 doc­u­mented mis­man­age­ment of funds by City Hall. A 2009 HUD re­port crit­i­cized a top-heavy bu­reau­cracy that squan­dered CDBG funds in Buf­falo. There are other ex­am­ples.

Not only does the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion doubt the pro­gram’s ef­fec­tive­ness, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­duced the pro­gram. Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment stud­ies since 1980 and more re­cently in 2013 found that the pro­gram has “not demon­strated a mea­sur­able im­pact on com­mu­ni­ties,” ac­cord­ing to the agency’s spokes­woman.

These find­ings are prob­lem­atic and dis­turb­ing for a pro­gram cre­ated in 1974 when then-Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon re­quested that Con­gress com­bine fed­eral and an­tipoverty pro­grams into block grant.

Still, the CDBG fund­ing makes a dif­fer­ence, in Buf­falo and else­where, from neigh­bor­hood re­vi­tal­iza­tion to at-risk youth and se­nior cit­i­zen ac­tiv­i­ties to qual­ity-of-life is­sues. Street and wa­ter projects have ben­e­fited.

Poor com­mu­ni­ties shouldn’t have to worry about whether fund­ing will come through. An im­por­tant part of en­sur­ing that it con­tin­ues to flow is to make sure the money is be­ing used as it is sup­posed to be.

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