President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts would be “devastating” to Kansas City’s poorest residents and damaging to the local economy, city officials say.
Trump’s budget proposal, which was released by the White House on Thursday, would eliminate funding for the national Community Development Block Grant program, which would save the federal government $3 billion annually.
Kansas City receives roughly $7.2 million annually from the program. The money pays for everything from homeless outreach and child care centers to home repairs and economic development.
The budget document released by the White House contends the “program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.”
City officials said otherwise.
“People will literally bleed as a result of these cuts,” said City Councilwoman Alissia Canady, who represents southeast Kansas City.
Canady, along with other City Council members, was in Washington, D.C., this week with the National League of Cities to lobby against the cuts, which would “take the bottom out of our safety net of social services.”
Roughly 9,000 people received services funded by the grants last year, according to the city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department.
“Further cuts would eliminate housing and social resources the city budget does not have to fill in those gaps,” Canady said. “This would have an immediate impact to those most vulnerable populations in our community who are already understaffed and under-resourced.”
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, called the budget proposal “a nervous breakdown on paper.”
“When you think about things that we are trying to do in Kansas City, this is devastating,” Cleaver said. He said it would take Republican votes to halt the proposal, and he would speak with U.S. Rep. Sam Graves and other Missouri Republicans.
Graves’ office did not immediately comment on the proposed Community Development Block Grant cuts.
Stuart Bullington, deputy director for neighborhoods and housing services for Kansas City, said Community Development Block Grant funds have played a crucial role in revitalizing neighborhoods.
“A lot of the city becomes dark very quickly when you pull these funds away,” Bullington said.
Nearly $3 million of the funding goes toward housing repair and rehabilitation services for seniors and low income residents.
“They get a furnace for $4,000. They get a roof for $8,000. That’s gone,” Bullington said. “City funds cannot be used to improve private property.”
Deb Hermann, CEO of the Northland Neighborhoods Inc., said that her organization, which is set to receive a $250,000 grant this year, has a year-long waiting list for home repairs.
Hermann said that recent clients include an elderly woman whose furnace was leaking carbon monoxide and a low-income family without a sanitary sewer system. She said many people have a misconception that the beneficiaries of these types of programs are lazy.
“They need to meet some of our clients. Our clients are their mothers, their sisters, their brothers. We just had a disabled vet who didn’t have a working water heater,” Hermann said.
John Wood, the city’s director for neighborhood and housing services, said the publicly funded revitalization work has played a key role in helping persuade private investors to fund development projects in communities east of Troost Avenue.
“It’s been tough enough as it is to attract private sector resources into areas where properties are low value, but these are people’s homes. These are people’s neighborhoods. They live here,” he said.
Kansas City has one of the most active Section 108 programs in the nation, Wood said. It allows state and local governments to turn some Community Development Block Grant funds into federally guaranteed loans for physical and economic revitalization projects.
“Such public investment is often needed to inspire private economic activity, providing the initial resources or simply the confidence that private firms and individuals may need to invest in distressed areas,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which facilitates the program.
Now, the big question is how drastic the cuts will actually be, said Kansas City Councilman Scott Wagner.
But he’s optimistic that all the proposed cuts to Community Development Block Grant funding won’t happen.
“Cities around the country depend on this. They are mobilized. There is a certain recognition that if nothing is done there are a lot of things that will happen to cities across the country — they’re willing to fight,” he said.
The Unified Government of Wyandotte County receives $2.7 million in combined funding from the block grant and HUD’s HOME Investment Partnership Program, according to a statement from Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Mark Holland. He said the money covered home repairs for 84 homeowners and food assistance for 3,205 people last year.
Trump’s proposal would also eliminate the Community Services Block Grant and also the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which cost $4.2 billion annually.
The grant program goes toward services for low-income people, including job training and placement and housing assistance.
The budget proposal says, “LIHEAP is a lower-impact program and is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes.”
But according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 6.3 million households nationwide received assistance to help heat or cool their homes through the program in 2014.
In Missouri and Kansas, about 73 percent of those who received assistance had homes with elderly people, disabled people or young children, according to Health and Human Services.
A spokesperson with the Kansas Department for Children and Families said that in 2016, nearly 39,710 households received an average of just under $470 in energy assistance through the program, for a total of $18.6 million paid out in benefits.
The Missouri Department of Social Services said about 121,820 households received assistance in 2016. However, the department did not give specifics about how much each family received last year.
Lindsay Wise, The Star’s Washington correspondent, contributed to this report.