$10M in neighborhood grants at risk
by: Meaghan M. McDermott
A federal funding stream that has poured more than $100 million into the Rochester-area economy over the past decade is in jeopardy as the Trump administration seeks to end a government grant program that injects funds into community and economic development projects.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program, known in government parlance as the CDBG program, is a potential budget-cut target this year under a blueprint released last month by President Donald J. Trump. Eliminating the program would result in a national annual savings of $3 billion that could be spent on something else. The budget blueprint calls for boosting military spending by more than $54 billion, a 10 percent increase, that would be funded with equivalent cuts in other areas.
The Trump administration says it believes the tax cut plan it announced this past week will pay for itself through economic growth. So the likelihood is that the $3 billion savings from ending CDBGs would go toward the boost in military spending.
If CDBGs ends
The blueprint Trump put forward could change several times before a budget is finalized, and there are other potential program cuts that could impact the Rochester region. But cutting the block grants would be felt very close to home.
What would potentially be lost would be quality of life programs that the $3 billion supports now, including state and local government endeavors as varied as job training, parking lots, museums, housing repairs and infrastructure projects. Local and state governments, already strapped for cash, would have to make up the difference, if it were to be made up at all.
CDBGs also support Meals on Wheels, which got the lion’s share of attention last month after news broke of a possible federal initiative to eliminate the 42-year-old CDBG program. But, helping to provide meals to elderly shut-ins is just a tiny sliver of the federal dollars given to localities to improve overall quality of life for residents. An exclusive Democrat and Chronicle analysis of 2016 CDBG projects in Monroe County and the three communities here (Greece, Irondequoit and Rochester) that get dedicated funds from the program shows:
►While the bulk of the funds, more than $8 million in the fiscal year 2016, went to the city of Rochester, benefits also accrued to projects in more than a dozen suburban communities that do not get direct federal grants.
►Nearly $1.4 million was provided to low- and moderate-income homeowners all across the county via direct grants and low-cost loans to make vital home repairs to roofs, foundations, windows or plumbing, heating and electrical systems. In Rochester, some of this money is also used to help homeowners eliminate problems related to lead-based paint, which has been linked to a range of health problems.
►Tens of thousands of dollars was used for initiatives that help senior citizens age in place and retain their longtime homes, including transportation and legal services, home safety assessments and installing bathroom handrails and grab bars.
Numerous officials say that if the funding stream dries up, they would face the difficult choice of asking local property taxpayers to shoulder an additional burden or doing without.