Let’s Kill the CDBG by Steven Malanga.
Nothing in President Donald Trump’s first federal budget, issued earlier this year, produced more howls of indignation than the proposal to kill off a remnant of the War on Poverty known as the Community Development Block Grant program, or CDBG. Politicians, advocates, the liberal media, and executives of nonprofits that receive these often-sizable grants denounced Trump’s plan as devastating. For Jesse Jackson, ending the program meant that Trump had betrayed his pledge to rebuild black urban communities. A Cleveland councilman said that Trump’s proposal would cause a “crisis” in his city, while Boston mayor Marty Walsh warned that the “reckless” cuts would “bring pain.” Democratic senator Tom Udall of New Mexico was “appalled”; his Connecticut counterpart Chris Murphy predicted “utter disaster” for his state. Newspapers nationwide published hundreds of articles about the local initiatives that would die if Trump got his way. Reporters often pointed to what the loss of the grants would mean to communities that had voted heavily for Trump.
The overheated rhetoric came in defense of one of the nation’s most wasteful and ineffective domestic-spending programs. Conceived in the early 1970s as a way to give local officials a say in how federal poverty aid gets doled out, the CDBG has sent some $150 billion to impoverished neighborhoods in Baltimore, Buffalo, Newark, and other struggling cities, with little or nothing positive to show for it. Worse, the CDBG has created a local patronage racket, funding politically connected nonprofits that do little to spur economic development. And to build further support, Congress extended CDBG funding to wealthier areas, so that grants now help build tennis courts and swimming pools in neighborhoods with above-average incomes.
White House budget director Mike Mulvaney stated the obvious when he complained that the grants “have been identified as . . . not showing any results. We can’t do that anymore. We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good.” The Trump administration is right: it’s time for the CDBG to go.