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Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Madam Chair, I rise in strong opposition to this amendment. I will be brief because I know we have many more amendments to consider, but I want to focus on this one because I think this proposal to cut the Community Development Block Grant program by $396 million is particularly ill-advised, and I suspect Members on both sides of the aisle will understand that and will agree. We are all, after all, hearing from our mayors and from our local communities with great regularity that CDBG is money well spent.

First of all, this program has been much better funded in past years. Even with the increase in the current bill, for which we commend the chairman, even with that, the funding is much less than could be utilized.

We know the CDBG program has some very strong virtues. One of them is flexibility and community self-determination in terms of how this money is spent, how it is applied, and the kind of leverage that this money represents, for bringing forth participation and funding from other sources.

This is a program that has stood the test of time, that has strong bipartisan support in this Chamber and across the country. So I think the notion that we would cut back this appropriation by hundreds of millions of dollars is most unwise, and I urge defeat of the amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I believe, with the offering of this amendment, we are in great need of a reality check in this Chamber. After all, it was President Nixon, and it was a strong, bipartisan majority, with the Republicans playing a leading role, that first initiated the Community Development Block Grant programs, and I assume that this amendment will be rejected today by that same kind of bipartisan coalition.

The whole idea of the CDBG program was to get away from inflexible, one-size-fits-all approaches to urban development. The whole idea was to get away from top-down bureaucratic direction. CDBG was designed to empower communities, to give them flexibility, to maximize the possibility for leverage of private sector funds, to let the community determine its own projects and its own priorities.

All of us have experience with this program, I dare say. My experience has been that the bang for the buck from CDBG is virtually unmatched in any other Federal program. Housing rehabilitation, for example, is one of the main uses in many communities of CDBG funds. What you're doing with housing rehabilitation is not building public housing from scratch. You're not totally developing new neighborhoods, but you're taking houses that are likely to deteriorate, where a relatively small investment can rehab those houses, can salvage those houses, and can make quality housing available more widely in the community.

Another major use of CDBG funds is infrastructure. How many Habitat for Humanity communities have been built across our country with CDBG funds furnishing the basic infrastructure, and from there the volunteer efforts take off?

The gentleman sponsoring this amendment made the incredible statement that these are projects that communities wouldn't undertake on their own. On the contrary, no CDBG project is going to be undertaken without community participation, financial and otherwise, without community self-determination that this is a priority.

So there's an air of unreality about this debate. These are programs that maximize the values that many of our colleagues profess--self-determination, flexibility, leveraging of private funds. They're programs that have stood the test of time. And we, in this bill, should be proud to appropriate CDBG funds, because we know these funds will have great multiplier effects throughout this country. So I very strongly urge colleagues to reject this amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise to offer an amendment that is of great importance to some of the strongest and best-managed housing authorities in our country.

Currently, housing authorities in our districts receive Federal funds through two distinct streams. One funds day-to-day operations, and the other provides capital funds for construction projects and important modernizations to our Nation's housing stock. Both streams are currently underfunded, not only in this bill but also in the fiscal 2013 administration request.

Now, I believe it's prudent to maintain these two distinct funding streams, but some of our housing authorities do need additional flexibility in tough funding years. Currently, some well-performing housing authorities, like the Raleigh Housing Authority in my district, have created efficiencies in their operating budget and pinched pennies in every way imaginable.

Unfortunately, in order to reallocate these operations savings to urgent capital needs, they have to go through a very cumbersome and cost-ineffective program, that is, HUD's Operating Fund Financing Program. This program requires authorities to go through a financial middleman rather than just letting authorities use their operating funds and savings directly. This process costs unneeded interest payments and it adds unnecessary red tape.

While I hope that our authorizers will be able to improve and streamline this process, I propose that this committee allow housing authorities to use unused operating funds for capital projects directly without having to go through the Operating Fund Financing Program.

My amendment is narrow in scope as it's targeted to 2013 funds and existing reserves only. It's not prospective.

This stopgap solution would provide flexibility for housing authorities, incentivize the wise spending of operating dollars, and help clear up the public housing capital improvement backlog at a time when the construction industry is still reeling from the recession. This amendment would be a win for Americans who need public housing and a win for Americans who are looking for jobs.

This is not a new endeavor for the Transportation and Housing Appropriations bill; indeed, it's a continuation of the public housing operating fund offset discussion that we held last year.

However, I understand that there is a point of order. So I will register the hope that the authorizers can conclude their work to address this issue before the end of the year.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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