President Obama released his 2014 federal budget proposal on Tuesday. The President is proposing to reduce funding for the core resource of our Community Action Agencies—the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG)—from its current $679 million/year to $350 million/year.
For our network in Wisconsin, this would mean a loss of roughly $3.7 million in CSBG funds—money that not only provides for many of the local anti-poverty initiatives Community Action Agencies are valued for but money that, for every $1.00 of CSBG, leverages over $27.00 in other federal, state, local or private resources. Wisconsin wouldn’t just be losing $3.7 million a year in resources to fight poverty and create jobs and economic opportunity; also put at risk would be the ability to access another $90+ million!
We shouldn’t be surprised at the President’s proposal. It appears the Administration is suspicious of programs whose priorities are controlled by local communities. CAA leadership, which includes community leaders, business and elected officials, and low-income citizens, uses the CSBG to respond to local conditions that, with additional investment, can create new opportunities for workers, their children and our economy. Some federal officials think that they know better which program ‘silos’ should be funded at the expense of local decision-making, which of their own favorite priorities should be supported. We, of course, disagree.
And, fortunately, so do both Houses of Congress. In each of the last two years, both the House and Senate have rejected proposed cuts in CSBG, to a great extent because CSBG is one of the only poverty-fighting programs still controlled locally. The President should learn from this rare display of bipartisanship.
Another reason for CSBG’s support in Congress is that it works. As will be seen, again, when WISCAP issues its annual report next month of network agency activity in 2012, the work of Community Action Agencies in helping low-income people attain economic self-sufficiency reaches far and wide. Over 330,000 individuals were served by Community Action Agencies last year, 54% of those individuals being ‘working poor.’ Nationally, Community Action Agencies funded by CSBG provided services to 18.7 million low-income individuals in 7.6 million families.
If we are serious about growing our country again and getting us on the right path economically and fiscally, we must face up to a current contradiction: our policy makers support the need for funding physical infrastructure but ignore the just as legitimate need to support a healthy human infrastructure. We will never be fiscally healthy or, as individuals, immune to the setbacks of our economy, as long as we ignore the strength and vitality that can be brought to the economy by helping our low-income neighbors become economically self-sufficient.
As one of our member agency Executive Directors recently stated: “Everyone has the right to have the opportunity to become self-sufficient, but if these individuals and families don’t have a fair chance then they will never be able to pull themselves up from the trenches.” And, we will all be the worse for it. CSBG is the seed capital Community Action Agencies need to do their work to provide for that fair chance. It is an investment we should all energetically and fully support.
Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, Inc.