Op/Ed: Block grant cuts will be devastating

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By Kathi Cozzone, Chester County Commissioner

Kathi Cozzone

President Trump has presented his first budget proposal, a document containing many surprises, and quite a few points that have alarmed various groups of people from housing advocates to environmentalists to diplomats. Count me among the alarmed. In Pennsylvania, Counties are on the front lines of spending on human services. We leverage a wide range of tax dollars from the Federal and State Governments to run important intervention programs through our various departments. We also work closely with the non-profit community, which is heavily supported by government grants to do the hard work serving our vulnerable citizens.

A lot of attention in the media has focused on cuts that would ultimately impact the Meals on Wheels program, perhaps because it is a universally well-known and indisputably effective program that receives broad public support. This cut is actually part of a much larger Trump budget cut – the elimination of Community Development Block Grants. This cut must be understood for the huge impact it would have on a variety of programs, some well-known like Meals on Wheels and others more under the radar, but all vital to the health of our residents and the stability of our communities.

In the past 10 years, Chester County has received over $21 million in funding from Community Block Grants. Of that massive sum, almost $15 Million went to non-profits doing fantastic work or to county departments directly serving clients. Some examples are almost $1 million for the Domestic Violence Center, almost $300,000 for the Charles A. Melton community center in West Chester, over $333,000 for La Comunidad Hispana in Kennett Square, over $2 million to renovate several senior centers and Millions more for various religiously affiliated charities.

Another $7 million went directly to municipalities for various local projects. For instance, the City of Coatesville received over $900,000 for street improvements, building demolition and storm sewer repair. In all, 11 boroughs and townships received grants through this program, which supplements significant investment by the County’s open space preservation and urban center revitalization program.

In 2016 alone, the County’s Department of Community Development reports that 5,940 Chester County residents benefited from Community Development Block Grant funded activities by either having infrastructure improvements in their neighborhood, their home rehabilitated or their favorite senior center renovated to be more useful for them.

Trump Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended the elimination of this funding stream by saying that we do not see any “return on investment.”

Clearly, Mulvaney has not thought it through. When a non-profit uses this money to help a family overcome homelessness, that family can once again contribute to the economy. When a senior gets access to regular hot meals, their family can experience benefits to their bottom line and their peace of mind. When a small town can make infrastructure improvements, it helps small businesses. The examples are endless. Return on investment on this spending is amazing, whether measured in economic activity or by the improvement of actual people’s lives.

In short, the Community Development Block Grant program has a far-reaching impact on our community. At the County, we would face hard choices between raising taxes and cutting services – or likely a mix of both. Even local governments would feel the pinch with less revitalization money available, and I don’t even want to consider what will happen in Harrisburg where they are dealing with a mess already! But even more critically, anyone who is a donor or volunteer with a local non-profit, or even a large non-profit doing work locally, should be troubled by this proposal. Chances are, your favorite organization’s programs would be scaled back by the Trump budget. The full price will be paid by our seniors, our children and our neighbors dealing with homelessness, drug addiction, hunger or family crisis.

Let’s hope our leaders in Washington think long and hard about what kind of community they want to build back home before enacting this devastating budget cut.

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