Federal grant cuts hit city services

Amid shrinking federal budgets, city officials have begun the process of allocating funding to community organizations from a reduced pool of funds.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. submitted his recommended allocation budget for the 2012-’13 fiscal year to the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night, appropriating money to organizations that support his legislative priorities. The budget — which included funding for federal programs including Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs), HOME Investment Partnership, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS and Emergency Solutions Grant — will be debated by a joint committee of the board’s human services and community development committees and likely modified before being passed by the entire board. Aldermen expressed concerns about how the reduction in the amount of federal funding allotted to the Community Development Block Grants in particular would affect the city’s services.

“This is one of those city entitlement programs that really provides safety nets for those who are most vulnerable in our community,” said Ward 26 Alderman Sergio Rodriguez, chair of the human services committee. “The really wonderful thing about it is that it comes straight to cities, cities get to make the decisions [about who receives funding].”

Many community organizations rely on these federal funds to cover operating costs, particularly CDBGs, which are designated for local community development and are the largest of the four in scope and size. But with the federal government slashing aid to states, organizations — including churches, housing programs, and youth and elderly services — have had to make do with less money in recent years.

“Over the past two years, New Haven’s total allocation has been reduced by more than $1 million,” City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said in a statement accompanying the budget’s release. “Due to the substantial decrease in funding, the city narrowed its funding priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, focusing on evidence-based youth development activities, job training and employment opportunities, public safety and neighborhood revitalization.”

These funding priorities correspond with those laid out in DeStefano’s State of the City address earlier this month, in which the mayor cited education, job growth and public safety as the main issues he hopes to tackle this year. Although the proposed funding amounts for some organizations have decreased, she said, others such as the Greater New Haven Business and Professional Association, received an increased allocation because DeStefano proposed eliminating funding for non-prioritized organizations.

The city will receive a total of $6,443,460 in federal funding this year, $3,673,534 of which is from Community Development Block Grants, compared to $3,891,395 in CDBG funding last year. In fiscal year 2011, New Haven received nearly $6.9 million in total funding, a drop from over $7.6 million the year before.

CDBGs, Rodriguez said, have been under constant threat of federal budget cuts. He said at one point former President George W. Bush ’68 called for an end to the entire program until he faced overwhelming resistance from cities.

“The Block Grants is one of those grants that we always worry about because the federal government is always cutting it,” Rodriguez said. “It may actually go away, depending on what happens to Congress [in the 2012 elections].”

The federal funding process began in November, when community organizations attended a mandatory meeting and submitted applications to be considered for funding. Now that DeStefano has submitted his recommendations to the board, it will hold public meetings in which representatives from each affected organization explain how the group will use the funding and ask for more funding.

Then, after the joint committee has made its own recommendations, the entire board will vote on the final budget proposal, which Rodriguez said will happen in late April or early May. In general, Benton said, the final proposal is a revision, but not an entire overhaul, of the mayor’s initial proposal.

The U.S. government has paid over $3.8 billion in Community Development Block Grants to states in the fiscal year 2012.

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