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Santa Barbara Groups Say Threatened Federal Block-Grant Program Fills Critical Needs

Local organizations and officeholders met to advocate for a HUD program slated for elimination in Trump budget

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and Congressman Salud Carbajal were among local leaders speaking at a press conference Monday in Santa Barbara to emphasize the critical role Community Development Block Grants play locally. President Trump has proposed eliminating the program. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and Congressman Salud Carbajal were among local leaders speaking at a press conference Monday in Santa Barbara to emphasize the critical role Community Development Block Grants play locally. President Trump has proposed eliminating the program. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

The Trump administration’s policies on issues such as climate change and immigration have received considerable push-back from local and state groups, but there’s one White House proposal flying relatively under the radar that has many local nonprofits worried.

Looming over human-services organizations across the country is a provision of the administration’s March budget proposal calling for the elimination of all $3 billion of funding for the Community Development Block Grant program — a major slice of the 13-percent proposed funding reduction for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Cities and counties allocate that grant money for infrastructure maintenance, economic development, social services and housing.

Just because it’s in the president’s blueprint, however, doesn’t mean the proposal’s a done deal; Congress would have to choose to incorporate that provision into the national budget, which it alone writes.

White House officials wrote in the budget proposal that since the program’s inception in 1974, the block grants are “not well-targeted to the poorest populations and have not demonstrated results.

“The budget devolves community and economic development activities to the state and local level, and redirects federal resources to other activities.”

Local organizations, joined by several elected officials, offered a vastly different conclusion Monday afternoon at a press conference at Santa Barbara’s Ortega Park.

“CDBG funding has been a critically needed and well-used resource for Santa Barbara in revitalizing neighborhoods and supporting vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and homeless persons, victims of domestic violence, persons with disabilities, youth and veterans,” said Rob Fredericks, executive director of the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara.

Lee Sherman, development manager with the Santa Barbara County Food Bank, said his organization receives nearly $100,000 a year in CDBG money from local cities.

“That comes to a pretty substantial chunk of our annual food budget,” he told Noozhawk.

Nearly one in four county residents reach out to the Food Bank at some point in the year for food assistance, Sherman said. The organization also serves a network of over 300 partner organizations.

“I just cannot overstate the multiplier effect the funds have,” he said.

In case CDBGs are axed, he added, the Food Bank has been reaching out to foundations and individual donors for supplementary funds.

“Worst comes to worst, we won’t be able to buy food, fewer people will be able to take advantage of it, and fewer people will get served,” Sherman said.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider announced that Ortega Park was chosen for the press conference because it had received up to $470,000 in CDBG money for various infrastructure improvements since 2005.

The city is slated to receive over $800,000 in grants this year, she said.

“This is a nonpartisan issue. … This cuts across all political boundaries,” Schneider told reporters, adding that the U.S. Conference of Mayors, led by the Republican mayor of Oklahoma City, is committed to preserving the program.

In a prior interview, Schneider told Noozhawk that without agencies such as a public health department, partnerships with nonprofits and other organizations are necessary to meet some of the city’s basic human needs, including affordable housing programs.

Congressman Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, blasted the president’s budget, and said California’s 24th Congressional District, which spans Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and part of Ventura counties, receives around $34 million in CDBGs each year.

“This budget proposal would decimate all these services,” Carbajal said at the press conference. “We would see a lot more poverty, we would see a lot more homelessness, a lot more need for child care — you name it.”

For New Beginnings Counseling Center, the grants help fund the nonprofit’s mental-health clinic, which executive director Kristine Schwarz said offers the community’s lowest-cost mental health services to a wide array of vulnerable populations.

“As we know with people who are very vulnerable, good mental health is really important to their ability to stabilize, transition into housing or back into employment, or keep your family stable,” she told Noozhawk.

CDBG money, which makes up roughly a tenth of New Beginnings’ funds, is also used to connect to and fast-track clients living in their vehicles to affordable housing programs.

No federal grants, Schwarz said, means layoffs, cuts to staff benefits, higher clinic fees and no financial assistance for those transitioning into housing.

“The potential consequences of losing that kind of funding are significant,” she said. “And it hurts the people who are most vulnerable in our community.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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