Bush budget angers some city officials

New Haven may face significant reductions in grants for law enforcement, housing and community development next year if the recommendations contained in President Bush’s recent budget proposal are followed.

New Haven city officials and community service groups spoke against the proposed funding cuts. Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s deputy chief of staff Rob Smuts ’01 said the budget cuts, if approved by Congress, may compromise law enforcement and city housing development.

“Cuts in law enforcement grants … mean a big reduction in public-safety money that we have to make up for,” Smuts said. “[I]n our housing authority … there are just massive cuts in various aspects.”

Mayoral spokesman Derek Slap said one of the most significant reductions in funding will occur in the Community Development Block Grant, which helps fund approximately 60 different community-based programs. New Haven receives around $5 million from the CDBG, and it is expected to be cut by a third, Slap said.

“A 30-percent cut of CDBG, or even a 50-percent cut that is rumored, would have dramatic effects — perhaps shutting down some community organizations,” Slap said.

One affected program is the Women in Crisis Shelter, which provides temporary housing and support for homeless women and their children. Executive director Jacquelyn Pheanious said the shelter may be forced to cut an assistant teacher position currently funded by the CDBG, a move which would reduce her staff to six.

“With the governor and the president doing cuts, it’s hard to support that staff member,” Pheanious said. “We would have to cut down the number of children we could take if we lost the position.”

Current policy requires that there be one teacher for every four children. For the 2005-2006 fiscal year, Pheanious said the shelter already lost $2,000 out of their projected $25,000 budget before the Bush cuts were announced.

Even with generous donations, Carey Kuznar, director of marketing and communications for the United Way of Greater New Haven, said philanthropy will not be able to replace the money the government provides. The organizations United Way helps fund will suffer budget cuts if Bush’s proposal passes.

“What the United Way raises will be only a fraction of what government can provide, and organizations will inevitably still rely on government funding,” Kuznar said.

Members of the Connecticut Voices for Children, an organization that does research and public policy analysis for children’s programs, have expressed concern for the statewide cuts as well as the federal cuts. Voices for Children senior policy fellow Sharon Langer said many programs would face reduced state funding under Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s recent budget proposal.

“We’re losing ground, and if you combine Gov. Rell’s cuts with what the Bush administration is doing, daycare and early education are really going to be hurt,” Langer said.

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 sharply criticized the proposed budget cuts for reducing spending on education programs.

“It’s a terrible budget for New Haven,” Healey said. “The Bush administration has shown where its priorities are in terms of pushing for permanent tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting 48 programs out of the Department of Education.”

Bush’s budget proposal will be debated in Congress in coming months.

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