Local community development funds face cuts in proposed Trump budget

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COLUMBIA - President Donald Trump's proposed spending plan for 2018 significantly reduces funding for a range of executive departments, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Education. Proponents say this "skinny budget" will rein in excessive government spending.

However, the skinny budget's cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, namely its Community Development Block Grant program, could starve development organizations in Columbia and around the country of critical operating funds.

Since 1974, the Community Development Block Grant program has provided funding for urban and community development initiatives administered by state and local governments. 

CDBG funds support housing rehabilitation, small business development and senior services like some Meals on Wheels programs.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, every dollar of CDBG funding leverages an additional $3.85. Since 2005, CDBG programs have created or retained nearly 400,000 jobs for low- and middle-income individuals. An estimated 133 million people have benefited from other CDBG-funded programs, including senior services, local food banks and employment training centers.

Job Point, a local employment training center, utilizes CDBG funds to provide scholarships for individuals to attend job training and vocational courses.

The organization provides training, education and placement services for unemployed or underemployed individuals; individuals with social, economic, legal or educational disadvantages; individuals with physical or mental health conditions; and at-risk youth.

Steve Smith, president and CEO of Job Point, said the organization's services make a significant community impact.

"The people that we placed in jobs last year, if you annualize their employment salaries, they made more last year than Job Point's operating budget," Smith said.

In fiscal year 2016, Job Point served 418 people with job training, placement and education services. The average hourly wage for individuals who found employment through Job Point was $10.27.

Smith said if the block grant program is eliminated, the government should look for alternative ways to fund community development projects.

"We understand that there will be changes, but we're asking that our representatives and senators still continue to fund us, even if it's not through the block grant programs," Smith said. "It doesn't matter so much whether the funding comes from the Department of Labor or HUD or which part of the federal budget, as long as we're able to secure funds somehow."

Block grants also contribute significantly to regional economic and infrastructure development.

On April 20, the Boone County Commission unanimously approved the creation of a CDBG application for American Outdoor Brands, a hunting and outdoor recreation company with plans to build a distribution center in Boone County.

The county plans to ask for nearly $2 million in CDBG funding to improve roads and spur development near the planned construction site at Route Z north of I-70.

Ed Siegmund, executive director of the Mid-MO Regional Planning Commission, said to be eligible for the block grant funds, the American Outdoor Brands facility is required to create 100 jobs and must fill at least 51 of those jobs with low- or moderate-income individuals.

The American Outdoor Brands facility is expected to create nearly 150 jobs within its first three years of operation.

Without opportunities to pursue CDBG funding, Boone County could lose out on development projects like this one that promise to attract businesses and spur job growth.

Block grant funds, although administered largely by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, aren't just for urban communities.

"Without the block grant funds, it would be extremely challenging or impossible for the small communities to meet all the requirements for wastewater treatment and other infrastructure needs," Siegmund said. "Block grants are a vital program for rural communities, and that's kind of a forgotten component."

Trump's proposed budget is not final, but if Congress approves the spending cut for fiscal year 2018, the block grant program could be eliminated.