“Pull yourself up by the bootstraps.” “My parents worked hard for this money, so should yours.” “Government assistance only makes people more dependent.”
These are the common arguments that many people make against government assistance programs. But what do you do when your bootstraps don’t exist? What happens when parents are working hard, but due to systemic barriers or differing life circumstances they can’t make enough money to support themselves and their family? Some government-funded programs can help in these situations. These aren’t free handouts of money, but rather, supportive programs that lay a structure for individuals to foster improvement through self-sufficiency.
Why is the current president proposing to cut such programs by recommending that over $6 billion be cut from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds for the fiscal year of 2018?
HUD provides services and programs that support neighborhood revitalization, community development, and self-sustainability. Opponents argue that drastic cuts to this program are necessary because the department only makes people more dependent on government assistance. This logic is flawed.To understand why, let’s unpack what HUD does.
Let’s examine Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) – just one portion of the funds on the chopping block in 2018. In 2016, $2.8 billion was allocated for Community Development Block Grants on the federal level. These grants are then allocated to different states and their cities through entitlement programs. If a city has over 50,000 people, or a county has over 200,000 people, they are guaranteed a portion of their state’s CDBG funds. The rest of the funds that the federal government allocates to a state are then divided into different areas and programs of the state’s choosing. In Minnesota, CDBG grants in 2016 were $47,941,187. More specifically, in Minneapolis, CDBG grants were $10,248,621. These funds have been used to support services like domestic violence and abuse shelters, senior citizen centers and services, youth counseling, and job training.
In Minneapolis in 2014, almost $500,000 of the more than $11 million in CDBG funding received from the federal government was used for employment training. In 2010, in Minneapolis alone, the Adult Employment and Training Program used CDBG funding to help place 252 employees in positions above the minimum wage.
Youth counseling is another service provided by CDBG funds. We know that experiencing homelessness and poverty can cause high levels of trauma. Young people experiencing homelessness may suffer from PTSD as they grow up. Mental health crises, especially those exacerbated by acute and chronic stress, make it challenging to keep up in school. These factors at times can make college feel unrealistic or unattainable. Job training can provide alternate paths to financial stability, either on the road to a college degree, or in place of one.
With the funding being cut, the job training portion of the grants could very well disappear. In this situation, an individual may be forced to take a low paying minimum wage job. . . or maybe no job at all, instead relying on government assistance and community support. It’s important to recognize how hard it is to pay for food, medicine, diapers, and rent through welfare. The Minnesota Family Investment Plan (MFIP) assistance gives a single parent with two children $991 per month (that includes food stamps) and an average 1 bedroom apartment in the Twin Cities is about $769 per month, which means there is hardly any money leftover to spend on any other basic needs like transportation, health services, application fees, etc.
Expensive housing means many families are forced to find other living arrangements, like shelters, cars, or the street. When families, especially children, are experiencing homelessness they have an increased chance of witnessing violence, developing health complications, and experiencing hunger. All of these are labeled as “Risk Factors,” for children, and when they all add up, a child is less likely to experience healthy development. Are you seeing the cycle here? With such a chain reaction of barriers, you can see the harm that cutting even two services funded by the CDBGs could potentially cause.
Creation of more affordable housing is another feature that is funded by the CDBGs that are on the chopping block. Affordable housing is defined as spending no more than 30 percent of income on housing. With access to affordable housing families can find a place to stay, improve their mental and physical health, and maybe even lock down a job. Without stable consistent housing, it makes it difficult to fill out a job application because they do not have an address to write down. Also, without a stable living situation, parents face another obstacle in consistently getting to work. To take it a step further and keep the neighborhood in physically and economically good condition, we need not only the construction of more affordable housing, but the upkeep of the housing as well. It’s a good thing we have CDBG funding to help with that, for now.
The benefits of the services the CDBGs cover (like job training, youth trauma counseling, and building more affordable housing) are felt not only by the people who receive them directly, but by society as a whole. All of the services, if implemented well, have the potential to reduce the inequality in the United States. More people thrive due to the fact that everyone has more access to health services, more free time with loved ones, and overall less trauma and stress that can be caused by experiencing homelessness and/or poverty. Also, greater inequality leads to higher rates of crime and violence, as assessed by Wilkinson and Pickett, in their book “Spirit Level.”
So why are the CDBG funds being cut and where are they going? Funds being cut from HUD are all being reallocated to the military budget. The Department of Defense (DOD) already has a budget over $500 billion. The $2.8 billion in Community Development Block Grants that is proposed to be completely eliminated and reallocated to the DOD has a much bigger significance in the much smaller $48.9 billion HUD budget than it would have on such a large DOD budget. We are so focused on the violence that may arise (or we may cause) on the outside of our borders, that we pay little attention to the violence, crime, and unrest that exists within our borders, increasingly so with growing inequality. The Community Development Block Grants are useful and have been and continue to be used for valuable services.