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Mayor’s Corner: CDBG funds are of tremendous importance to Lewiston

By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.

Mayor of Lewiston

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: “the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program is a flexible program that provides communities [like Lewiston] with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs.”

Beginning in 1974, the CDBG program is one of the longest continuously run programs at HUD. The CDBG program provides annual grants on a formula basis to 1,209 general units of local government and states. Lewiston is one of those units, as we are an entitlement community.

A letter dated February 10, 2011 to members of Congress, sent from a coalition of the United States Conference of Mayors and nine other national organizations representing various forms of community development, offered the following facts:

Based on data that grantees have reported to the Department of Housing and Urban Development over the past six years, the CDBG Program has:

Assisted 865,874 low- and moderate-income households through single-family and multifamily residential rehabilitation, homeownership assistance, energy-efficient improvements and lead-based paint abatement;

Created or retained 259,346 jobs for low- and moderate-income persons through a variety of economic development activities;

Benefitted 22,998,047 low- and moderate-income households through such public improvements as development of senior centers, centers for the disabled and handicapped, health and child care centers and parks and recreation facilities;

Benefitted 73,863,286 low- and moderate-income households through such public services as employment training, youth services, crime awareness/prevention, fair housing activities, mental health services, and services for abused and neglected children; and

Every dollar of CDBG funding leverages $1.62 in non CDBG funding.

Certainly the City of Lewiston has had and continues to need CDBG funding to meet some of the very needs articulated above. As an entitlement community with two of the poorest census tracks in the State of Maine, the dollars are put to good use. On average the amount coming from CDBG grants is generally around $ 1 million annually.

A few of the public services that have received CDBG assistance are: Abused Women’s Advocacy Project; Advocates for Children-Healthy Families; American Red Cross-Disaster Services, Androscoggin Head Start & Child Care; Androscoggin Home Health-Lewiston Home Care; Lewiston Recreation Department Multi-Purpose Center After School Program; Museum L-A; Seniors Plus; St. Mary’s Nutrition Center; Sexual Assault Crisis Center; Tri-County Mental Health Services; Trinity Jubilee Center; YWCA Intervention; Lewiston Police Department Enhanced Neighborhood Policing; and the list goes on.

In the area of economic development, the Downtown Improvement Program and the Lewiston-Auburn Transit Busses have received funding.

Neighborhood improvements have included downtown infrastructure improvements; downtown neighborhood improvements, St. Mary’s Nutrition Center’s Lots to Gardens/Gardens.

Parks and Recreation programs have received City Park Improvement funding.

CDBG funds have also addressed commercial rehabilitations to various properties throughout the city, as well as façade grants on Lisbon Street. Housing rehabilitation loans have been provided all over the city, as have downtown improvement loans.

Without this funding, how could all of this be accomplished? We must remember that the dollars that go to the federal government are dollars that come from our residents. This is merely returning some of those dollars back to communities like Lewiston, which desperately need those funds to invest back in our local communities.

The U.S. House Republican Study Committee, which is comprised of 175 Representatives, has proposed the total elimination of CDBG. The Obama Administration’s budget proposal, according to some sources, may be proposing a cut of up to 25 percent for CDBG in the Administration’s Budget.

The entire CDBG budget amounts to close to $4 billion. That amounts to about two weeks of war spending we have been doing for some 10 years now. In light of that spending, CDBG dollars are miniscule.

As previously mentioned, every dollar expended in CDBG funding leverages $1.62 in non-CDBG funding. We truly have to view these funds as investment in our local communities. CDBG Grant Funding has been very successful for some 36 years. Why would we want to eliminate or cut a program that has proven to be very successful and of great benefit?

President Obama, when he met with representatives of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) recently said: “We also recognize how central cities are to our economy.” That is so true. Mr. President and members of Congress, cities and in particular service centers are of critical importance to our economy. This is where taxpayers live and their tax dollars need to be reinvested in the cities that desperately need these funds.

Municipalities like Lewiston are at the end of the road. We have federal and state unfunded mandates that are imposed on us. States have been balancing their budgets on the backs of municipalities, such as has happened here when state revenue sharing is cut so the state legislatures can say they have balanced their budgets without raising taxes.

This only adds to the problem that municipalities have to face by having to lay off valued employees and to moderately increase property taxes on its residents in order to balance its budgets. This regressive tax only hurts those least able to afford them, such as our senior citizens who have worked hard to build their homes and pay their taxes only to find that in their senior years they can no longer afford to keep their homes.

As mayors throughout the country, we are not asking for an increase in CDBG funding, but merely asking the President and Congress to maintain the $4 billion 2010 level for both the current fiscal year (2011) and the next fiscal year (2012).

I quote from a communiqué by the USCM: “CDBG funding does not stay in city hall. It goes to thousands of local businesses, contractors and service providers.”

I now call upon our faith community, who truly see the value of the social services that these funds help to provide, to contact our congressional delegation to support the effort to maintain this level of CDBG funding.

I call upon the local business community, members of the Chamber of Commerce, contractors who see the value in infrastructure investments and with their strong voice to assist in this effort to protect these critical services so as to not negatively impact the business climate of our city.

If we were to look back over the past 36 years without CDBG funding, we would be aghast as to what we may take for granted today that would otherwise not have been realized.

Please do as I have: contact our congressional delegation today. Thank you in advance for supporting your community.

See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.

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