The following is the release issued by Alan in response to Obama’s specific mention of “community action programs” in his State of the Union Address last night.
The executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley called news that President Barack Obama would propose cuts in the agency that operates programs that ease the pain of recession, create jobs and strengthen neighborhoods “a surreal moment in which my dumbfoundedness was coupled with a rare desire to hang up my cleats after 30 years of idealistically grinding out an organization that believed in our ability as a society to make a difference in the lives of those for whom the doors to economic opportunity are jammed.”
In talking about the need to cut federal spending, the President said, “I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs.” The core funding for these programs is the Community Services Block Grant, an obscure federal grant that funds more than 1,000 community action agencies like CACLV nationwide. It costs American taxpayers less than $900 million per year. The program would have to be eliminated altogether, according to Jennings, to have even the slightest effect on the federal deficit. Doing so would kill the agency that created and administers the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Sixth Street Shelter, Safe Harbor Easton, neighborhood-based community development programs in each of the three cities, weatherizes thousands of homes, helps people save money, get their tax refunds, buy their first home, and get off of welfare. It would kill the agency that organized the Green Future Fund, fought predatory lending long before anyone had any idea such lending was destroying neighborhoods and eventually would bring down the international economy, works with banks to extend credit to low-income communities, convinced the counties to create housing trust funds for affordable housing and helped establish RenewLV, the leading smart growth advocacy coalition in Pennsylvania.
Jennings, who teaches a class at Lehigh University on Tuesday evenings and had to read the text of the speech on-line, said, “Much of the President’s agenda, as articulated in his State of the Union address, would be threatened in the Lehigh Valley if CACLV was shut down. CACLV has led the effort to mitigate foreclosures. CACLV has helped scores of businesses get started. We have lent nearly $2 million to small businesses, creating and/or retaining hundreds of jobs. We have created innovative lending initiatives like the peer review program administered by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation. We weatherize homes, creating the green jobs the President embraces.”
Jennings also pointed out that the agency is extremely cost-effective, spending an unprecedented 7.6% of its budget on administration. CACLV’s Community Services Block Grant is less than $900,000 but leverages over $11 million from other sources, a ratio of more than 10 to 1. Approximately half of that amount comes from private sources.
Jennings said his thoughts about giving up lasted all of about 2 seconds. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush all attempted to eliminate CSBG but a bi-partisan Congress rejected the proposal. U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent, in whose district CACLV provides services, has played a leadership role in protecting its funding from previously-proposed cuts. And U.S. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that funds Community Action, has long been a champion of the program.
“It just saddens me that Barack Obama would abandon the cause of economic justice by targeting for spending cuts the movement led by the late Sargent Shriver, who died this past week,” Jennings added.
The National Association for State Community Services Programs (NASCSP) released a response to President Obama’s State of the Union address and the impact that the proposed funding cuts will have on the country’s most vulnerable citizens. The NASCSP website also has information on CSBG.