WASHINGTON — Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives want to cut the federal Community Development Block Grant budget, a move that others say could hurt already-strained municipal budgets.
Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said Thursday the CDBG program is a tool used to provide vital city services such as blighted property demolitions and street paving.
As the House moves forward with its plan, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, has called on Congress to adequately fund the program that he maintains will help towns and cities move important economic development projects forward.
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved $3.15 billion for the CDBG, but the House is proposing to cut that number to $1.67 billion.
“The House’s decision to drastically reduce CDBG funds after a 25 percent cut in the last few years is the wrong course. The Senate’s bill will ensure that communities across Pennsylvania have the resources they need to create jobs and spark economic growth,” Casey said during a Washington teleconference.
Leighton said the city’s CDBG funds also go to a number of important community service-oriented nonprofits in the city including the Commission on Economic Opportunity, Ruth’s Place shelter for homeless women and the Osterhout Free Library. “These organizations have already been decimated by other federal and state cuts as well as declining individual contributions in a struggling economy,” he said.
Casey highlighted local data that show the impact the program has had on municipalities across the state, and he discussed levels at which the program has been previously funded and the impact that the House’s severe cuts could have.
Pennsylvania received approximately $200 million in fiscal year 2011, $236 million in 2010 and $219 million in 2009, he said.
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, along with several of his colleagues, signed a letter urging the House Appropriations Committee to provide $3.3 billion for CDBG. Barletta said he has always supported the community development block grants and will continue to fight for them. “When the appropriations bill hits the floor, I will take the opportunity to offer an amendment in the hopes of restoring the funding,” Barletta said.
In the letter signed by Barletta and the others, several points were made about the CDBG program:
• More than 1 million low- and moderate-income persons have been helped through single-family, owner-occupied rehabilitations, home ownership assistance, energy-efficient improvements and lead-based abatement.
• The program created or retained 302,622 jobs for low- and moderate-income people.
• It has benefited nearly 30.5 million people through public improvements such as senior centers, child care centers and centers for people with disabilities.
• It has benefited more than 95 million people through services such as employment training, meals and other services for the elderly, services for abused and neglected children and assistance to food banks.
Casey said CDBG funding is crucial to efforts to rebuild and revitalize communities by generating long-term job growth and economic stability, especially for the middle class.
“I have personally witnessed how efficiently communities have used this funding to reinvigorate their economies and to create jobs,” he said. “This program provides crucial resources to over 1,200 entitlement cities, urban counties and states across the country and has a proven track record in its contribution to economic and community revitalization.”