As part of its 2018-19 budget, the Trump Administration proposes eliminating three programs that Billings' Community Development Division has been using to help reduce poverty.
Those projects include Community Development Block Grants, the HOME Investment Partnership Program, and the Corporation for National and Community Service, including the Billings Metro VISTA project.
The programs assist first-time homebuyers, rehabilitate homes, help homeowners avoid foreclosure, and in the case of the Volunteers in Service to America, help reduce homelessness and create tools that people in poverty need to build sustainable futures.
The White House proposed similar cutbacks last year, said Wyeth Friday, Billings’ Planning and Community Services director.
“While we did experience a similar roller coaster last year in terms of the federal budget process, the big concern here locally is the sustainability of the community development programs even as we see ups and downs in (Department of Housing and Urban Development) funding for them,” Friday said Wednesday in an email.
In budget documents, the administration published justifications for each of its proposed cutbacks. Some studies, the document states, show the allocation formula for the $3 billion CDBG program “poorly targets funds to the areas of greatest need, and many aspects of the program have become outdated." The program funds 1,250 state and local grantees, including Billings.
The $950 million HOME Investment Partnership Program goes to 600 localities and states, including Billings. It should be scratched, the document states, because state and local governments “are better positioned to comprehensively address the array of unique market challenges, local policies and impediments that lead to housing affordability problems.”
The administration proposes chopping about $900 million from the more than $1 billion that funds the Corporation for National and Community Service and its VISTA program, which has served Billings for decades.
Some of that agency’s programs, the explanation stated, “struggle to measure and demonstrate their impact.” The agency has also faced “significant management challenges.” Further, more than 60 million Americans volunteer in their communities each year “absent subsidies from the federal government.”
Friday said the recently passed Bipartisan Budget Act, which will boost non-defense discretionary spending by $131 billion over the next two years, “will help cities protect priority programs,” including Community Development Block Grants.
Friday said the main takeaway is that city leaders, including city council members, need to have “further discussion about what city support to provide some local funding for some community development programs might look like, so we can weather the federal instability and still deliver some programs to low-income families in our community.”
He said that discussion has not yet occurred in detail with the new mayor and council.
“The good news is that while we have seen dire predictions before in early budget discussions, the outcome when it is all said and done is often not quite as bleak,” Friday said, “and we are able to continue relying on HUD funds to deliver these vital programs in our community.”
It’s not like homelessness in Billings has come to an end.