City of Columbia offcials are rallying behind federal grant programs that are facing elimination or deep cuts from President Donald Trump’s administration.
Mayor Steve Benjamin and Councilmen Sam Davis and Howard Duvall, among others, met with reporters Monday morning to stump for the continued flow of federal Community Development Block Grant and HOME housing funds. Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate CDBG and HOME funding, which are collectively budgeted at about $4 billion nationwide for the current budget year.
Community Development Block Grant funding has been enormously popular with municipalities, as it is used to bolster cities through infrastructure projects, façade improvement programs, housing loan initiatives and more.
Columbia Director of Community Development Gloria Saeed says the city has received more than $6 million in CDBG funding in the past five years, money that, when matched with and added to private dollars, has turned into more than $30 million in investment in the community.
“To say that [Trump’s proposed] cuts would be anything short of devastating would be the greatest understatement of the day,” Benjamin said. “Across the state in the fiscal year 2016, $45.5 million [in CDBG funds] were distributed, not just in urban areas, but in rural areas, where funds are used not only for community development and housing, but for infrastructure.
“These funds are crucial as we see the great urbanization of America and the revitalization of our downtowns.”
A list of the city’s CDBG projects for the last few years shows a wide swath of projects, from more than $140,000 for a program to help “bring Columbia’s unbanked and underbanked households into the ????nancial mainstream” to $125,000 for street infrastructure improvements in the Lyon Street neighborhood to $50,000 for a mold remediation program for homes impacted by the October 2015 flood.
Before becoming a councilman, Duvall was the longtime director of the state’s Municipal Association. He says the threat of cutting federal CDBG dollars is nothing new.
“It is through community development that we are able to help [areas] in our city that need this sort of support,” Duvall says. “I have been involved in municipal government for a long time. It seems that, every few years, we go through a cycle of attack on community development. There’s no program in the federal budget more cost effective than these funds that make our communities livable.”
Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson was quick to stress that Trump’s would-be cut to CDBG funding is not set in stone.
“It is important to note that the president’s budget proposal is just that — a proposal,” the congressman said in a Monday statement to Free Times. “Congress has the constitutional power of the purse, and I look forward working with my colleagues and local organizations that provide services to responsibly spend taxpayer dollars.”
Benjamin says he has met with Republican and Democratic members of Congress and encouraged them to avoid cuts to CDBG funding. He called Trump’s budget “wrong headed” and says he is “encouraged so far” as to the congressional response to Trump’s budget proposal, as it relates to grant funding. Despite his cautious optimism, he says the city will continue “actively and aggressively advocating” for the funds to remain.