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A Program Trump Wants to Kill Helps Build Neighborhoods

CDBGCutsStoryPhoto2-feature750The Trump administration is targeting federal programs it says don’t work. But, if you want homeless families in affordable housing, job training that leads to well-paying work, and after-school programs for grade schoolers, take a closer look at those targets.

Consider Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood and the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

NEWS ANALYSIS 

Over the years, the program’s funding has been woven into the fabric of this historic neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side, supporting everything from job training, placement and support at the Chinese Mutual Aid Association to services for the homeless at the Inspiration Corporation.

Killing funding for this single program would tear at the fabric of the country’s third-largest city, home to diverse neighborhoods and families from Africa, Asia and Appalachia, even as waves of gentrification threaten that diversity.

“It (CDBG) definitely helps the most vulnerable. We are talking about families and kids,” Shannon Stewart, executive director at Inspiration Corporation, says.

“It really just takes away the safety net.”TrumpMakingItPeoplePolicyPovertyGraphicApril2017-insert475

Already, Illinois is struggling because lawmakers have not passed a comprehensive state budget for nearly two years. Community organizations, especially in Chicago, have already cut operations and staff because of the state budget crisis.

Without CDBG dollars, social service agencies in the neighborhood could close their doors, according to Jennifer Ritter, executive director of Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside.

Many agencies have cut their budgets “to the bone already,” she adds.

If President Donald Trump manages to cut the CDBG program, this story could play out in urban and rural neighborhoods that are home to low-income families across the country.

The debate over CDBG comes down to results, or at least what results you want.

In Chicago, residents are voicing concerns about possible federal cuts to programs that help families. Photo courtesy of Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside
In Chicago, residents are voicing concerns about possible federal cuts to programs that help families. Photo courtesy of Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside

In his inaugural budget proposal released on March 16, the president said the 43-year-old development program is “not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.”

In Uptown, the Chinese Mutual Aid Association’s Gisella Faggi disagrees. Last year, for example, the group spent less than $400 on each client in its job-training program, helping them land and keep decent jobs, where they contributed to the region’s economy, Faggi points out.

In 2016, all of the funding for this workforce support came from the CDBG program.

“The return on investment seems obvious,” says Faggi, who manages the organization’s civics and community integration. “I think it (eliminating funding) goes against our interest as a community, as a nation even.”

Block grant funds also flow into Uptown’s social services for homeless families, who struggle in a neighborhood where rents are rising. If that flow stops you would see more people on the streets, Stewart says.

Gutting CDBG is only a slice in the president’s budget that seeks to carve $6.2 billion from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the program.

For now, these cuts to housing and community development are theoretical, part of a proposed starting line in the annual race to pass a budget and spending bills that finance the federal government.

But, this budget may matter more than most because the Trump administration has staked out a far right position. Instead of serving as fodder for political debates about the size and role of the federal government, this budget likely will be one side in negotiations with a Republican-controlled Congress that’s already pushing for a smaller federal government.

If you want to know what the president’s first budget really means, look at this single proposed cut – eliminating funding for the Community Development Block Grant – under a microscope. Whatever your political position, you will see its elimination could also end programs that support families and neighborhoods nationwide.

“Put it in Trump’s terms: It would be a disaster,” says Ritter of Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality.

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Paul Nyhan is the senior writer for Equal Voice News, which is published by Marguerite Casey Foundation. Contact: pnyhan@caseygrants.org or 206-691-3134. The top image, which shows a Chinese Mutual Aid Association class in Boston, is courtesy of the organization. This analysis includes information from The Associated Press.

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