The Village of Oak Park is urging the federal government not to make cuts to a grant program that has been around since the 1970s and which the village uses for everything from paving alleys, to helping poor children go to the dentist.
Last year, Oak Park received about $2 million from the federal Community Development Block Grant program. But as the feds wrestle with a deficit over a trillion dollars, Oak Park and the rest of the country could see more than 60 percent cut from the grant program if the most severe proposals are passed.
Oak Park approved a resolution on Monday, urging the federal government to leave CDBG dollars alone. Trustee Ray Johnson said President Obama should first look at much bigger-ticket items before taking an axe to the $4 billion grant program.
The proposed cuts are "in essence, a way to reduce the federal deficit on the backs of those who have the greatest need," Johnson said. "And I think we need to stand up as leaders to say, 'That's wrong.'"
The CDBG program was enacted by President Gerald Ford in 1974 as a method to reduce urban blight and meet the needs of low-income or moderate-income neighborhoods. Funds are distributed by the feds to about 1,200 communities in the country, which then decide how they are used.
Last month, President Obama proposed a 7.5-percent cut to the program — about $300 million — to help reduce the federal deficit. Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives wants to cut more than 60 percent, which local officials say would "decimate" the program.
Oak Park is penciled in for $2.06 million from CDBG this year, according to the village's website. Under the program's guidelines, only 15 percent — $309,169 — can be applied to public services. In Oak Park that would include a local homeless shelter (West Suburban PADS), a nonprofit that assists battered women (Sarah's Inn) and a mental health agency (Thrive Counseling Center).
The majority of local dollars — about $840,000 — would go toward fixing streets, alleys and sidewalks in low-income or moderate-income areas of the village.
Trustees Jon Hale and John Hedges voted against the resolution on Monday. Hale said he wanted Oak Park to soften the language, offering the feds leeway to trim the CDBG program, but not at the 60-percent level offered by Congress.
In recent years, CDBG dollars were used to repave the alleys on both Hale and Hedges' blocks, even though no impoverished people live there, Hale said.
"It's nice that we have a program here that allows us to do those sorts of things," he said. "But to argue that there's absolutely no way that you could look at a program that's as big and varied as CDBG and say it couldn't stand one dollar in cuts because it'd be cutting on the backs of the poor and the dispossessed, that's just not true."
But the board voted Hale down 5-2, urging the feds to leave CDBG untouched. Trustees said, yes, the gesture is largely symbolic, but they wanted to keep the message as strong as possible.
Village President David Pope pointed out that funding for the program has already decreased slightly since 2001 to its current $4 billion. Meanwhile, the defense budget has more than doubled over the past decade, he said, to about $850 billion. He called CDBG "politically, an advantageous thing to shoot at."
"Both parties in Washington have a lot of work to do to be able to fix the structural issues," Pope said. "And unfortunately, too often historically, both parties have played politics with these sorts of issues."