Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker joined leaders nationwide last week to encourage Congress to provide more Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, which is in jeopardy because of the current economic crisis.

“The CDBG program is critical for our local economies,” said U.S. Conference of Mayors President Elizabeth Kautz in a statement. “Not only does it create jobs, but its economic impact also reverberates throughout our communities.”

County programs such as Down Payment on Your Dream, which allows the county to help first-time homebuyers and people who haven’t owned a home in three years purchase foreclosed properties, and HOME funds, which provides funding for low-income families to rent or own homes, have dried up.

This, combined with the foreclosure crisis that is still crippling the Prince George’s County economy, made Baker eager to joined other mayors and county leaders from across the county in asking Congress to fund CDBG.

“We aren’t spending money, we are investing money,” said Baker at March 16 press conference. “CDBG funds help the county create jobs, improve infrastructure, and pursue economic development initiatives. These are the kinds of investments that will generate real long-term growth in the county, and I urge members on both sides of the aisle to continue supporting this program.”

Baker along with representatives from the National Association of Counties (NACo) and U.S. Conference of Mayors released a report detailing the benefits of funding the program. The report studied 10 different jurisdictions from around the country and concluded the funding did more than just put people in homes and rehabilitate neighborhoods, it also improved local economies. “Our results suggest that in the last year the $3.95 billion in grant funds generated 120,000 jobs and contributed $10.7 billion in Gross Domestic Product, following up on the economic successes of the last decade, as well as providing numerous valuable social benefits,” the report states.

The two organizations are fighting to restore the program and fund it at the Fiscal Year 2010 level, but that prospect had grim hopes after the Republican spending bill was released. That bill saw cuts to many key programs as GOP representatives said no programs were “sacred.”

“Although we recognize that every dollar we cut has a constituency of support – an association, an industry and individual citizens – who will disagree with our decision, these cuts are the result of difficult work by our subcommittees to make the smartest and fairest reductions possible,“ said House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R- Ky., in a statement. “No stones were left unturned and no programs were held sacred.”

Local and national officials remain convinced that eliminating this funding may save money in the very short term, but will hurt communities nationwide in the long term and thus, further weaken the U.S. economy.

“As the report shows, CDBG funds assist local government in revitalizing neighborhoods to create safe, nurturing communities for families,” said NACo President Glen Whitley in a statement. “One CDBG-funded project can revitalize a neighborhood and extend the life of its public infrastructure by 20 years.”

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO