Trump budget may slash aid to Austin housing, elderly, flood recovery


President Trump’s proposed budget would cut about $9.7 million worth of grants to fund local social programs.

The cuts would eliminate programs that helped flood recovery in San Marcos and other Travis and Hays areas.

Child care help so minimum-wage parents can work and earn a paycheck. Social workers to care for elderly people who need help getting through their daily lives. After-school programs for kids who’d be left to their own devices otherwise. Housing vouchers for people who’d be on the streets.

Those are the programs targeted in a 2018 budget proposed by President Donald Trump. It would eliminate the Community Development Block Grant program, which communities nationwide use for everything from social services to infrastructure, and would eliminate several housing programs.

If that budget were to become reality, it would hit Austin to the tune of $9.7 million in assistance to poor people, city officials said last week.

“I don’t like to think of it as units and production,” said Rebecca Giello, assistant director of the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development department. “It’s people. It’s lives.”

The budget, unveiled last week, is unlikely to go into effect in its current form. Congress will have to weigh which of the president’s proposals it wishes to include. But it gives a clear view of the president’s priorities and is a potential road map for where Republicans may make cuts.

The Trump budget would slash education funding 47 percent, Environmental Protection Agency funding 31 percent, and Housing and Urban Development funding 23 percent, among other cuts. It would increase defense spending and the money for a border wall.

In Austin, that would be a loss of future grants to programs that this year gave $1 million to the Austin Area Urban League, which provides emergency home repair to low-income elderly people; $567,000 to the Salvation Army and the Housing Authority for housing vouchers, $283,272 to the YWCA, which gives short-term child care assistance to families in crisis, among others.

In Trump’s preliminary budget document, the Office of Management and Budget said the Community Development Block Grant program “has not demonstrated results.” That’s hard to hear for Giello, who said it can be tough to show the true impact of programs that don’t provide a monetary return on investment.

The housing cuts would chop her department’s budget 40 percent — and at the worst possible time.

“At a time when housing is such a critical focus in Austin, it makes a huge funding hit in an area we all realize is of critical importance in the community,” she said.

Juliana Gonzales, director of the Austin Tenants’ Council, agreed. Block grant funding covers about a third to a half of her organization’s budget, which helps renters receive assistance if they are unlawfully evicted or living in dangerous conditions. That’s more crucial than ever now, she said, when the local housing market is displacing more and more low-income tenants.

“That has a huge impact on our community,” Gonzales said. “If children are moving, suddenly, from school to school, it has an impact. It has an impact on workforce stability.”

Losing block grant funds, which have remained stable for the Tenants’ Council for more than 10 years, would be catastrophic for its work, she said, as the need to address substandard housing is growing.

“These are places where balconies are falling off and it’s not safe or habitable,” she said. “Without those federal funds, I don’t see that we’re going to be able to work with Austin Code Department and others to make sure everyone is living up to basic standards.”

In San Marcos, the proposed cuts would be “devastating” to recovery from floods like those in 2015, Mayor John Thomaides said Thursday.

The Community Development Block Grants provide funding for disaster relief as an urban development mission. This month, HUD announced it was awarding the city $7.4 million from the program for recovery from the floods in 2015. That came on top of $25.08 million in flood relief that was announced in February 2016.

That money has allowed the city to launch a housing program to begin repairing and rebuilding flood-damaged homes for low- and moderate-income residents.

“The city has received significant benefit from the Community Development Block Grant program,” Thomaides said. “We’ve touched many lives, and we’ve improved our community through various infrastructure projects in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, including health and safety improvements as well as quality of life improvements like parks and sidewalks.”

Trump’s proposed budget instead calls on state and local governments to cover community and economic development projects. But Thomaides said that suggestion is unrealistic.

“It would devastate our budget,” Thomaides said. “We wouldn’t be able to fund public safety, we wouldn’t be able to fund our normal everyday operations, road improvements. It’d just be impossible. Or unlikely without issuing additional debt.”

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