Block grant cuts could hurt needy

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The 2012 federal budget proposed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 14 calls for a 7.5 percent cut in funding for the federal Community Development Block Grant program which funds local community development activities such as affordable housing, anti-poverty programs and infrastructure development. If approved the budget would take away approximately $300 million in CDBG funding from city governments.

Locally Pittsburgh’s CDBG funding is being used to fund organizations like the Center for Victims of Violent Crime and programs like the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program. It is also used by the Urban Redevelopment Authority for a number of neighborhood business and economic development projects.

“If those cuts are across the board, that represents a cut of almost $1.3 million dollars, this year alone,” said District 9 Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess. “Funds to organizations that provide food to needy families, among other things, could feel the ax if the city is forced to amend down the CDBG Budget it passed in December.”

Council only receives approximately $1.3 million of the CDBG funds to allocate to organizations and projects in their district. The city’s budget includes approximately $17 million in total CDBG funds divided between the URA, city council, Human Relations Commission, Mayor’s Office, City Planning, Public Works and Public Safety.

However, Public Works, which is responsible for street paving and other city infrastructure maintenance, receives the largest allotment of CDBG dollars totaling approximately $6 million.

“Throughout my tenure on Council, I’ve been fighting for low- and moderate-income families,” Burgess said. “CDBG reform is so crucial to the communities that I represent and I want to ensure that more of that $16.5 million goes to improve their lives, improve their neighborhoods, provide more summer jobs for our youth and force the City to spend more of its local tax dollars paving our streets, taking care of abandoned and vacant property.”

More than 50 percent of the city’s CDBG dollars are allocated for infrastructure projects such as the demolition of houses, which alone receives $1.25 million.  Conversely, a program like Just Harvest, which assists low-income residents in learning about and utilizing public assistance for food and income programs, receives only $25,000.

However, CDBG dollars used for infrastructure projects, such as the demolition of two high-rises in East Liberty five years ago can eventually lead to vital community redevelopment, including the many privately funded development projects occurring in East Liberty today.

Although there might be some disagreement between the city and city council about how CDBG dollars are used, District 6 Councilman Daniel Lavelle said the federal cut could hurt poor neighborhoods the worst.

“I think it will have a devastating affect on our district. There are numerous organizations that work on a day-to-day basis to service poor neighborhoods that will see a reduction of dollars. It will also reduce development,” Lavelle said. “The North Shore Community Alliance is a wonderful organization that utilizes CDBG dollars, as well as the Manchester Citizens Corporation which is doing wonderful work to improve the Manchester neighborhood. This would certainly hinder our ability to support them.”

According to White House representatives, Republican congressmen are calling for a cut much higher than the 7.5 percent proposed by President Obama.

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