CDBG is the wrong target
Abruptly ending this block grant program would hurt local governments
If President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate the Community Development Block Grant program is accepted by Congress, it would not be the first time Washington has attempted to rein in federal spending on the backs of thousands of local governments. It happened a few decades ago when a CDBG predecessor, Revenue Sharing, was killed.
Like Revenue Sharing, the CDBG initiative doles out federal money to communities throughout the nation. Poverty rates have much to do with how much individual local governments receive. They are supposed to use the money in low-income neighborhoods.
About $3 billion a year is handed out via the block grant program. That sounds like a lot of money.
But it is a pittance in comparison to federal deficit spending, which during the Obama administration topped $1 trillion a year.
Philosophically, ending the CDBG program might be a good idea. It seems to have little impact on poverty rates. Local governments have wide latitude in how to spend the money. In effect, it is a supplement to their capital improvements budgets.
But that can hold down local taxes by providing another source of money to make needed improvements and repairs.
If Trump and Congress are truly serious about reducing the federal deficit, they will tackle spending that originates in Washington. Eliminating just one big, unneeded Pentagon project could save $3 billion.
Or, insisting that taxpayers’ money be spent efficiently would save mountains of it. Cost overruns — to date, at least — on a new Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora, Colorado, have topped $1 billion.
Trump and Congress simply must find some way to make meaningful cuts in federal spending. Doing that by eliminating the CDBG program would hurt many local governments badly — while dodging the real issue: Washington.