Federal funding that keeps police on Lancaster County streets, pays for services that help local victims of domestic violence and finances basic home-repair loans to area homeowners is on the chopping block.
The Community Development Block Grant program is facing drastic cuts.
And Bob Casey is spreading the word in hope that his colleagues notice and take action.
Pennsylvania’s Democratic senator said Thursday that he is pushing to save the 40-year-old program — which doles out cash to municipalities across the country — from harsh deductions.
Community development grants support economic- and community-development activities in both small and large cities, Casey said, giving local governments a way to spur job creation.
“Local communities get to decide what their priorities are and what they want to invest in,” the lawmaker told reporters during a conference call.
This year, the county received $2.62 million from the block grant program and the city got about $1.4 million.
Members of the Senate offered to raise the funding level from $3 billion to $3.15 billion for the program, which is run by the Housing and Urban Development department.
But the House Appropriations Committee came up with a different figure. The committee recommended cutting the program by nearly 50 percent, to $1.6 billion.
Republican Joe Pitts argues the rollback is necessary due in part to the across-the-board cuts of sequestration.
The sequester has already cut discretionary spending to $984 billion and will, in the second year, further reduce the total to $967 billion.
“CDBG funds important programs that deserve our support. Sadly, we are borrowing 40 percent of all federal spending — a crisis the president has repeatedly refused to address,” said Pitts, who represents most of Lancaster County in the U.S. House.
The Kennett Square lawmaker said the grants and other good programs will continue to be scaled back unless Barack Obama finds a way to modernize entitlement programs and control federal spending.
“The alternative is a bankrupt federal government,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey agreed.
A spokesman for the Republican lawmaker said “the Budget Control Act established discretionary spending caps to rein in out-of-control Washington spending and put our nation on a sustainable path.”
“Under these levels, we must make some tough choices and better prioritize federal spending,” the spokesman said in an email. “Funding for some programs, including Community Development Block Grants, may need to be reduced to ensure that we live within our means.”
Casey said he understands that cuts need to be made but doesn’t see the logic behind cutting a program that has proven to trigger economic growth.
“What happens in Washington sometimes is that people don’t have any rationale for why they want to cut certain programs. They know they need to find savings, but they don’t put a lot of thought behind it,” he said.
Slashing the community development grants by half, the senator said, will bring further pain to a program that has seen funds disappear little by little over the years.
In 2010, the program received $4.45 billion. In 2011, it was reduced to $3.5 billion; in 2012, it had dropped to a little over $3 billion.
“The House’s decision to drastically reduce CDBG funds after a 25 percent cut in the last few years is the wrong course,” Casey said.
Maureen Keith, communications director for U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, declined to comment on where the Republican stands.
She said, however, that he believes the program “serves an important purpose within our communities, and he looks forward to discussing this and other issues within the transportation funding bill when it comes before the full House.”