Committee passes federal funding proposal

Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker, left, proposed a successful amendment to streamline the Board’s federal funding approval process.
Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker, left, proposed a successful amendment to streamline the Board’s federal funding approval process. Photo by Nick Defiesta.

In a joint committee meeting Wednesday night, aldermen debated the final budget for New Haven’s share of federal Community Development Block Grants.

The Board of Aldermen’s joint community development and human services committee approved several amendments to Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s budget for the grants, sending its final budget to be debated before the entire board. Although the committee made minimal changes to funding allocations, it spent over an hour debating a proposed amendment by East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 that would streamline the funding process in future years.

Many local nonprofits and community organizations rely on the grants to cover their operating costs. But with the federal government slashing aid to states, these organizations — including churches, housing programs, and youth and elderly services — have had to make do with less money in recent years.

To receive funding, organizations must submit applications in the fall. In late February, DeStefano submitted his office’s recommended CDBG budget to aldermen.

According to City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton, New Haven’s total funding allocation has been decreased by more than $1 million. As a result, the city has narrowed its funding priorities to goals outlined by the mayor and the board earlier this year: youth development, job and employment opportunities, public safety and neighborhood revitalization.

Those priorities affected Wednesday’s proceedings, as the committee debated five changes to the proposed CDBG budget. The first three, proposed by aldermen on the committee, would increase funding to Fair Haven Health Clinic and Centro San Jose by $3,000 each and to New Haven Pop Warner, a nonprofit football and cheer league — which was cut entirely from DeStefano’s budget — by $9,700.

But in order to give more money to the three organizations, the amendments would take money from four others, including $7,700 from the Area Agency on Aging and $4,000 from STRIVE. Ward 26 Alderman and committee co-chair Sergio Rodriguez objected to the cuts to STRIVE, an organization that provides job training and placement, given the board’s objectives of boosting employment in the city.

“One of my understandings was that a priority for the board this year was creating jobs,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez offered another amendment that would take $4,000 from the Montessori School on Edgewood — which he said did not use all the money it was allotted last year — to make up for the money STRIVE would lose. After some debate, the four amendments, along with another that increased funding for the city’s Complete Streets initiative with money taken from the Health Environmental Rehab & Lead Paint initiative, all passed the committee.

The committee then debated Elicker’s amendment, which they said would clear some of the red tape surrounding the CDBG funding. After submitting an application and attending required presentations in the fall, CDBG applicants must come before the joint committee to ask for funding, often waiting for up to three hours in the process.

Elicker’s amendment would remove the need for community organizations that have successfully received funding in the past — many of which have applied for CDBG funding for over a decade — to come before the joint committee every year.

“The spirit of it is to make it easier [to apply] without losing any of the oversight,” Elicker said.

Under the amendment, organizations that have successfully received funding in the past would not need to testify before the board unless their funding request changed substantially or they were summoned by aldermen.

The amendment was a point of contention within the committee, with Ward 1 Sarah Eidelson ’12 questioning exactly who on the committee would have the authority to summon organizations to testify. In the final version that was passed by the committee, any alderman on the committee could summon an organization, subject to the approval of the co-chairs.

Now, the committee’s finalized CDBG budget will head to the entire Board of Aldermen, where it will be debated and new amendments may be added to it before it is voted on by all 30 aldermen. Rodriguez said the board’s final vote will come during its May 7 meeting.

New Haven received a total of $6,443,460 in federal funding this year, $3,673,534 of which is from CDBGs.

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