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Public Statements

Congressional Budget for the United States Government for the Fiscal Year 2006

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I have come to the floor as a cosponsor on the Sarbanes amendment to the budget to protect funding for the community development block grant CDBG administered at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This program is crucial to the development of low income communities across America.

As you know, the administration has proposed a plan in the 2006 budget to consolidate 18 existing economic and community development programs into a single program administered by the Department of Commerce. The HUD community development block grant program--also called the CDBG program--is the largest of those 18 programs.

The grants previously awarded under these 18 programs would be awarded in the name of a single, newly formed strengthening America's communities, SAC, grant program.

But when examined, it becomes clear that the President's proposal will mean less assistance for low-income communities and a dismantling of relationships within a community development infrastructure of public servants and community-based organizations that we have built over the last 30 years.

Under the proposal, the total budget for these 18 programs would drop 30 percent from $5.31 billion in 2005 to a proposed $3.71 billion in 2006. That means less money for home ownership, less money for economic development, less money for communities struggling in changing economy.

To give you a sense of what that means for State and local governments, consider that in 2005 the community development block grant, CDBG, program alone was funded at $4.15 billion, $450 million more than the $3.7 billion requested for the total 18 programs being consolidated under the new strengthening America's communities grant program in 2006.

That is not a consolidation of programs. It is a direct attempt to dismantle those programs. That is why the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, and the National League of Cities all oppose this.

As those groups have pointed out, the Commerce Department lacks the capacity to administer the newly proposed program. HUD has 1,100 urban, suburban, and rural CDBG grantees, constituting a strong infrastructure for program administration. And, HUD's $4.7 billion CDBG program dwarfs the Commerce Department's $257 million economic development program. HUD has skills and experience Commerce lacks.

On March 4, 2005, I wrote a letter to Chairman Gregg and Ranking Member Conrad supporting full funding for the CDBG and objecting to its transfer to the Department of Commerce from HUD.

Those who are closest to the needs of low-income communities our Nation's Governors, community based organizations in Illinois, and local government officials from Illinois have all come out in support of the Sarbanes amendment. They know the CDBG program works and have shared success stories of communities strengthened with CDBG funds. They respect the public servants that administer the program, and they have developed a working partnership with them.

In Illinois, communities large and small are making the most of this assistance.

The city of Chicago, for example, which has already seen its formula share of CDBG funds reduced by $14 million over the last 3 years, has focused its CDBG priorities on five specific program areas: affordable housing, youth programming, health clinics, job training, and support services to groups with specific needs, such as domestic violence, emergency food aid, and meals on wheels.

Let me give you a specific example of CDBG funds in action. Mujeres Latinas en Acción is an organization in Chicago's Pilsen community that serves Latinas and their families. The total they receive in CDBG funds both through the city of Chicago and the city of Cicero is close to $170,000.

Mujeres Latinas en Acción depends on CDBG funds to support services such as rental assistance for program participants to prevent homelessness. They also provide comprehensive services for victims of domestic violence including crisis intervention, court advocacy, individual counseling, group counseling, 24-hour crisis hotline, and referrals to shelters. And, the group also uses CDBG funds to provide services to young people promoting the development of peaceful relationships, open communication with peers and family, and school success. The goal of the program is to provide youth a variety of age appropriate structured activities during nonschool hours to help prevent teen involvement in gangs, alcohol and drug use, sexual activity, pregnancy, and other problems facing adolescents in low-income communities.

In Champaign, IL, CDBG funds have been used to help low-income families become homeowners, make homes accessible for the disabled, provide credit counseling, construct emergency and transitional shelters for the homeless, and provide a broad range of services to people in need. A number of towns in St. Clair County, IL, are using CDBG funds for housing rehabilitation grants and loans for their low to moderate income residents.

As you can see, these proposed cuts in the CDBG program affect big cities and smaller towns. Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley wrote me that, ``significant reductions in CDBG funds ..... would have a serious effect on the network of community-based organizations throughout the city which rely on CDBG for their existence. A number of them would likely close their doors.'' And, in the words of Eric Kellogg, the mayor of Harvey, IL, population 30,000, ``Many have characterized CDBG as the best federal domestic program ever enacted because of its flexibility and adaptability in meeting the needs of a diverse America.''

The CDBG program works. Let's not destroy it.

I urge my colleagues to support the Sarbanes amendment.


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