Op-Ed - Trump’s budget hits Inland communities where it hurts: Norma Torres
Eva works the graveyard shift as a 911 dispatcher for the Los Angeles Police Department. Despite her long and grueling hours on the job, she gets up every Friday morning like clockwork, drives to Queen of the Valley Medical Center, picks up several carefully planned, nutritious meals, and sets off to distribute them to seniors in the community who might otherwise not have a hot meal or speak to another person all day.
Eva is a volunteer with Meals on Wheels, which provides home-bound seniors with a nutritious meal and much needed company. Shortly after President Trump released an outline for his first budget, there was public outcry over proposed cuts to this vital and beloved program. While these cuts are unjustifiable, Meals on Wheels is not the only program of its kind on the chopping block.
In Trump’s budget plan, he proposes completely eliminating Community Development Block Grants, from which Meals on Wheels receives some of its funding. These are federal grants targeted to helping localities fund projects that benefit the entire community, particularly their low and moderate income residents. CDBG projects can range from funding Meals on Wheels to building affordable housing to creating local parks to expanding economic opportunities. Localities with large numbers of low- and moderate-income residents often have the greatest needs but the most limited budgets. CDBG was created to help these areas fill the gap so they can create more livable communities that all residents can enjoy.
During my time as a council member and then mayor of Pomona, we used CDBG to help tackle the problems facing our city. When we decided we needed to give our kids a safe place to go after school so they wouldn’t fall prey to violence and gangs, it was with CDBG money that we were able to build the La Casita Teen Center in Palomares Park. CDBG was also used to build the skate park there and the “tot lot” at Ted Greene Park.
But the impact of CDBG goes beyond parks and recreational centers. In Pomona and throughout the Inland Empire, CDBG grant funds are used for a wide range of services that touch nearly every part of the community. They help battered women and children at House of Ruth in Chino, support police efforts to address homelessness in Ontario, and fund after-school programs in Fontana.
Though the projects are broad in scope, this isn’t some slush fund cities can use on a whim. Communities that want to access CDBG monies have to create a comprehensive long-term, regularly updated plan for how funds will be used. They also have to seek input from the community, certify that at least 70 percent of the funding is going specifically to help low to moderate income residents, and prove they are not exceeding the maximum allowed for administrative costs. Furthermore, localities are subject to routine reviews, and if anything is found amiss, are subject to full audits.
In his budget blueprint, Trump claims that CDBG should be cut because it is not yielding results. I think he should talk to the teens who use La Casita and now have a place to go after school rather than being on the streets or talk to the senior citizens who get their only hot meal from Eva or other kind-hearted Meals-on-Wheels volunteers.
As a region recovering from the Great Recession and the foreclosure crisis, CDBG helps Inland Empire cities and counties better serve and adapt to diverse, growing populations, so they are able to pay for the kinds of projects that make our region a better place to live. The benefits of CDBG might not be displayed so clearly on a balance sheet, but they’re clear to those of us who have used these vital funds to create more vibrant, livable communities for all residents.
Eliminating CDBG will hit Inland Empire communities and the people who call this region home especially hard.
Norma Torres represents California’s 35th District in the U.S. Congress.