During the State of the Union address in January, President Obama said that he knew his budget would require some sacrifices:
“This freeze will require painful cuts,” said President Obama. “Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs.”
Those programs are funded in large part by Community Service Block Grants or CSBGs. The grants help groups that provide aid to needy and vulnerable Americans. Under the budget the president proposed on Monday, CSBGs would be cut by 350 Million dollars – or 50 percent. That’s drawn concern from programs that receive the grants.
Every Thursday evening, a group of immigrants crowd a small office space in Washington Heights to study American history.
“We provide free civics classes where we help individuals prepare for the citizenship exam,” said Angela Fernandez.
Until last week, Fernandez was the executive director for the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. The group gets just under a fifth of its funding in the form of CSBGs. The Department of Health and Human Services gives CSBG money to the state via the Office of Community Service. State governments then decide how to distribute the money to individual groups. Fernandez says the proposed budget would cut funding at a time when groups like hers need it most.
“Not getting funding from the state is something that we’re going to feel,” said Fernandez.
750,000 New Yorkers would feel it, too. According to the New York State Division of Community Services, that’s how many people received support from CSBG-funded programs last year. New York receives the second largest sum of money for CSBGs. Only California gets more.
David Bradley is the executive director of the National Community Action Foundation.
He says CSBGs fund local programs that provide everything from domestic violence protection to weatherization assistance. And so he has one question for the Obama Administration.
“What particular aspect put it over the line to that made it a program to highlight to attempt to make cut to make this cuts in,” said Bradley.
Budget analyst Tad DeHaven from the CATO institute says that the fact that CSBGs do good things isn’t enough to justify them. He says the grants are wasteful and receive too little oversight. At the end of the day, he says, decisions about CSBSs are made on the basis of politics and not necessarily sound economics.
“That’s where you get into the examples of waste and abuse and funding for wealthy areas the don’t make a lot of sense,” said DeHaven. “So for instance you now have wealthy towns in Connecticut receiving CSBG money to help building upgrades for a wine bar.”
DeHaven also points to a brewery in Michigan that is receiving CSBG funds for expansion. He said he would rather see funding come from the private sector.
For now, class will continue at the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.
If the proposed budget cuts to CSBGs are approved by Congress, non-profits could start seeing effects as soon as March of this year.