Community Development Block Grants, a funding source for everything from rent assistance for low-income folks to infrastructure improvement, is okay for 2017 thanks to the spending plan recently worked out by Congress and signed by President Trump. But the program’s continued existence is unsure since the federal budget proposal for 2018 calls for a zeroing-out of CDBG. It’s a move cheered by some individuals who claim the program is a cesspool of graft that hardly helps its intended segment of the population. Others argue for its continuation because CDBG has made, at the least, some kind of difference in their communities.
In our portions of southern Ohio and the western edge of West Virginia, CDBG’s more visible benefits are seen in better roads and bridges. But the program, established in 1974 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has broader parameters designed to live up its title of community development. From assisting low-income programs and such housing-related offshoots (and thus justifying its status under HUD), CDBG has done a lot of good for our area. Its continuation means more help for deserving people, as well as a beacon of hope that with some federal aid, all of our lives are improved, even if it is a repaved section of heavily-used rural road.
CDBG money is parceled out to the states by Washington, which is then distributed to counties, cities and non-profit agencies applying for assistance. Locally, county government, townships and municipalities submit applications for certain needed projects, such as extension of sewer service to areas with crumbling sanitation systems or no sanitation. Money is awarded to these projects based on several considerations. Although for some applicants it’s a better-luck-next-time way of doing things, it’s better than nothing or for cash-strapped communities shouldering the expense themselves.
Local government funding from Ohio’s biennial spending plan continues to shrink, and while this piece was written, the West Virginia Legislature and Gov. Jim Justice still struggled to craft a state budget acceptable to both sides. Gallipolis will again seek passage of a 1 percent increase in the city income tax on Nov. 7 to maintain public safety. CDBG represents a source of funding to help get things done in light of less and less revenue with which to operate. Its loss, if approved, delays many local improvements, perhaps for always.
Research has shown the program, like others, has been misappropriated, lost or stolen over time in large and small states, as Scott Shackford of reason.com maintained in March when the proposal to cut CDBG came to light. “The CDBG program is chock full of cronyism and corruption and should be eliminated,” Shackford wrote. “Much like corrupt city redevelopment agencies, what actually ends up happening is that the money gets funneled by politicians to friends with connections to various projects that aren’t really helping the poor at all.”
Yet, Erik Sherman, writing at the same time for forbes.com, acknowledged CDBG’s important role in supporting non-profits and like-minded organizations. “Is there waste?” Sherman asked. “Perhaps. Is there good done? From what I’ve seen, yes.”
In the give-and-take, deal-making world in which creating a budget exists, a proposal to cut CDBG doesn’t always mean that’s what we can expect. What should be expected, or even hoped, is that our area congressmen, Bill Johnson of Ohio’s Sixth District that includes Gallia and Meigs counties, and Evan Jenkins, whose Third District in West Virginia covers Mason County, have seen the worth of CDBG and what it’s done for the people in the areas they represent. Additionally, we hope they will recognize more needs to be done and support changes to the proposed federal budget that keep CDBG and its parent agency an active part of community development.
There is a possibility that in the extreme, CDBG could be eliminated so that equally important programs impacting citizens are allowed to continue. There are no guarantees any what will happen when Congress takes up the 2018 budget, but with states and districts that have benefited from CDBG, we hope a significant number of our legislators will cast a favorable eye on its continuation.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.