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Avondale mayor joins others urging Congress to restore block grant funds

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WASHINGTON – Avondale Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers was in Washington on Wednesday urging Congress to reverse “unconscionable” cuts to the Community Development Block Grants program, which helps more than 1,200 local governments.

Rogers joined other members of the National League of Cities board who criticized Congress for continuing, in her words, to “slash funding that cities, day in, day out, depend on.”

The block grant program, started in 1974, gives local governments grants for economic and community development projects. But its budget was cut from $4.4 billion in fiscal 2010 to $3.1 billion this year.

The Senate would keep funding next year at the current level, but a House plan would slash the budget to $1.6 billion in fiscal 2014.

“We just begin to see a sense of recovery and the House is proposing deep cuts,” said Rogers, who said the cuts would make “a horrible dent in the budget.”

Rogers, who also serves as president of the league’s board, said Congress needs to support the Senate spending level.

She said Avondale has been able to leverage block grant funds in recent years for “emergency home repairs, street improvements, job training and commercial rehab,” and that the proposed cuts would hurt the city.

Arizona housing officials, however, said it is still too early to tell how the block grant program might be funded. Daniel Romm, legislative liaison for the Arizona Department of Housing, said the state is “kind of in a holding pattern at this point.”

“Even though there is a significant cut, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Arizona will receive less funds,” said Romm, explaining that there are a lot of funding formulas that determine how much a state receives.

He said Arizona committed $14 million of the CDBG funds in 2012, helping more than 86,000 households in the state. But he said it would be hard to speculate about programming in the coming year until the state hears from the Department of Housing and Urban Development about its funding.

In addition to the proposed cuts to the block grant account, Romm said the House bill includes “a significant cut” to the home investment partnerships program, which gives states grants to develop and preserve affordable single-family and rental housing. The House bill would cut that program from the current $950 million to $702 million next year; the Senate bill budgets $1 billion for the program, Romm said.

“As far as spending levels, the Senate budget is certainly more solid than the House,” he said.

Which is why the league is fighting for the Senate funding, Rogers said.

“We will continue to fight to make sure this doesn’t happen,” she said in a prepared statement on the spending cuts. “Our communities, and certainly our residents, deserve better.”