In the budget outline President Bush has sent to Congress, he recommends cuts to everything but defense and Homeland Security. Local communities are concerned that could end the funding they count on for housing and economic development programs. Tom Bredeweg (BREDD’-uh-wig), executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, explains they fear the loss of Community Development Block Grants. Bredeweg calls CDBG, or Community Development Block Grants, “The one single most important federal program that’s left,” explaining that since World War Two the federal government sent a number of grants to local governments, but almost all of those have dried up in recent years. He says CDBG money addresses a number of issues that would be very hard for them to tackle otherwise. It’s a federal grant program that comes back to states, cities and counties to help them address the needs of their low-income citizens, he explains. Bredeweg says the League of Cities got some good news this week. He says they’ve met with Iowa Confressman Jim Nussle, chair of the US House Budget Committee, and he’s assured them that some funding would be restored and indicated he doesn’t favor moving administration of the program to the federal Department of Commerce. Bredeweg says that would be a poor move since the federal Housing and Urgan Development agency’s always handled the grants, and the people who really understand housing and the grants are in HUD. Low-income housing is a major beneficiary of the CDBG money, he explains. About fifty-Million dollars a year comes to Iowa, about a third of it for the ten biggest metropolitan areas. They can use it as they want, as long as the money’s spent to fulfil the guidelines — programs that benefit low and moderate-income Iowans. The other two-thirds of that federal money is given to Iowa’s Department of Economic Development, which uses it as grants to other communities. Bredeweg says these are dollars that bring in other dollars — they’re used to leverage private investment three or four times the size of the original grants. Supporters of the president’s budget cuts say there’s plenty of waste that can be cut from government spending, but Bredeman says that definition does not include the block-grant program. He’d be happy to sit down with anyone and tell them why low-income housing money isn’t pork-barrel spending. “We’re not talking about some sort of exotic projects,” he says, “We’re talking about sewer projects in our poorest neighborhoods, we’re talking about homeless shelters, disabled facilities, even childcare in some of the areas that are most distressed.” Noting the program has rules that the spending must show a benefit too low- and moderate-income Iowans, he declatres, “These are not boondoggles by any stretch of the imagination.” Bredeweg says there’s a very good track record showing how block-grant money’s been spent and how it’s helped Iowa communities. Despite early signs the funding may be restored, he says we won’t know for sure until the federal budget’s finalized and approved by Congress.
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