Archive for Sunday, January 16, 2005

Lawrence homeless programs may face federal funding cut

2006 Bush budget may reduce grants by as much as 50 percent

January 16, 2005


Just as Lawrence officials are considering ways to strengthen services to the homeless, a major funding source may be threatened.

Congressional aides say the $4.7 billion federal Community Development Block Grant program -- commonly known as CDBG -- could be cut as much as 50 percent in the Bush administration's proposed 2006 budget.

CDBG money is used in Lawrence to fund the Salvation Army overnight shelter and the daytime Community Drop-In Center, which serve the city's poor and homeless.

"It's just a big piece of our money," said Loring Henderson, director of the Drop-In Center, which received $10,000 in CDBG money through City Hall in 2004. "I just hope the community will understand when we come to them asking for more money. We'll have more events, I guess."

Margene Swarts, community development manager at City Hall, said the city would receive $911,000 in federal block grant funds this year. Aside from the homeless services, she said, the money also is used to rehabilitate rundown Lawrence houses under a first-time homebuyers program.

"It is a significant source of funding that helps low- and moderate-income people, of which the homeless are a segment of that population," Swarts said. Any big cuts, she said, "would have a grave impact on this community."

Across the state

Sally Lunsford, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Commerce, said Friday the state received about $21 million a year in CDBG funding, which it distributes to Kansas communities through the Commerce Department's Economic Development division.

"It would be premature for us to comment (on the possible cuts), not knowing how it would impact our funding," Lunsford said. "Obviously these programs are important, especially for smaller Kansas communities to do improvements."

In Kansas last year, $21 million in Community Development Block Grant funds:¢ Paid for 94 projects.¢ Created or retained 364 jobs.¢ Helped rehabilitate 202 houses.¢ Helped demolish 144 "unsafe structures."¢ Laid 52.75 miles of water lines and 20.65 miles of sewer lines.¢ All of which affected 161,081 Kansans.Source: Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing

In fact, Lunsford's department on Friday announced CDBG grants totaling $7.16 million to 22 cities across the state to pay for new sewer and water lines. Among the grantees: $400,000 to Jefferson County for new sewer lines and demolition of old sewage-holding tanks in the Lakewood Hills Improvement District.

Cutting the block grant program would have ripple effects across the nation.

Stanley Jackson, director of the Washington D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, said the city has used CDBG grants of $21 million to $22 million a year for clinics, recreation centers, day-care facilities, literacy programs and housing development.

'Negative impact'

With housing and property values skyrocketing, the need for such programs for low-income families has never been higher, Jackson said.

"If this is a backdoor way of eliminating a program like CDBG, it would have a profoundly negative impact on cities," said Jim Hunt, a vice president of the National League of Cities and a city council member in Clarksburg, W.Va.

Back in Lawrence, $30,000 of block grant money was used to run the Salvation Army shelter in 2004. Another $10,000 went to the Drop-In Center, with $10,000 granted to finish construction of Lawrence Open Shelter.

"It allowed us to install the sprinkler system, finish bathrooms, things like that to get the shelter open," said Henderson. "Quite literally, LOS wouldn't be open if it weren't for CDBG money at the time."

Now Henderson is preparing to work even harder to keep the Drop-In Center and open shelter running.

"In a town the size of Lawrence, raising a little over $100,000 a year is just daily work," he said. "$10,000 out of that is a chunk, for sure."

Journal-World wire services contributed to this report.

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