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Trump takes aim at block grant program funds

Published March 20. 2017 02:46PM

One of the programs that President Donald Trump has proposed to cut in his first budget is a grant that has funded many small infrastructure projects here in Carbon County.

The Community Development Block Grant has provided funding for numerous street, utility and park projects in Carbon County.

But the Trump administration says the block grant program has not been effective, and that eliminating it would save the federal government $3 billion each year.

"The federal government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results," the president's budget proposal reads.

But in Carbon County, the project provides important local funding for construction projects that small towns can't always afford.

Carbon County Commissioner William O'Gurek said that in Carbon County, the program produces results for the people who need it most.

"The money we spend on an annual basis absolutely targets low- to moderate-income areas, and helps municipalities with upgrades to their facilities that they otherwise might not afford," O'Gurek said.

In 2016, more than $500,000 in grants went to projects around Carbon County. Tamaqua got another $108,000.

Franklin Township got about $70,000 for improvements on Red Hill Road. Jim Thorpe got $74,000 for two water/sewer projects. Summit Hill got $37,500 for Ginder Field. Lower Towamensing Township got $35,000 for Aquashicola playground.

"We're living in an area where the infrastructure is old - pipes are a hundred years old in some cases. That money has enabled towns to make water and sewer improvements," he said.

Towns with at least 4,000 people (Franklin Township, Lehighton, Jim Thorpe Mahoning Township and Palmerton) are guaranteed money each year.

Lansford used to get CDBG funds annually, until the population fell below 4,000 in the 2010 census. As a result, they've lost out on what could have been $100,000 per year. But the program is still important, Lansford Councilwoman Rose Mary Cannon said.

"I would say that this is an area that definitely is a good use for it," she said.

Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, said that CDBGs are one part of the president's budget proposal that concerns him.

"They're very important as a pass through to our communities," he said.

The borough of Lansford is preparing to demolish a blighted building with CDBG funds.

"For years, that's what we counted on for road projects," Cannon said. "I hope that when push comes to shove, that's one program they do not eliminate."

There have been accusations of misuse of the funds in the past. Congress' financial services committee has investigated the grants.

O'Gurek said that the state agency that oversees how the grants are distributed in Pennsylvania provides good oversight.

"If there's wasted money, shame on the oversight, and shame on the people who are doing it," he said. "I can tell you this - Summit Hill, Lansford, Lehighton, Palmerton and many other of our municipalities, have all benefited tremendously from the grant program."

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