Reject Obama CDBG Change

To judge by the White House’s own statement, President Barack Obama’s administration does not consider aid to Wheeling and cities like us to be “optimally targeted” use of federal funds.

Wheeling could be hurt badly if Obama’s budget proposal is adopted by Congress. As we have reported, the city could lose about $1 million a year in federal funds if White House plans to change the Community Development Block Grant program go through.

Obama’s budget request calls for changes in the CDBG program that would hurt the very communities that need economic development help – those with declining populations.

CDBG allocations to Wheeling have been decreasing steadily under existing law. The city’s annual grant has gone down by about 37 percent during the past two years, to slightly more than $1 million. The money is used for various purposes, including infrastructure needs.

If Obama gets his way, funding for the CDBG program nationwide would be cut to $2.8 billion for fiscal 2014, down from $3.24 billion in 2012.

Of much more concern is the president’s plan to cut some communities entirely out of CDBG funding.

As Wheeling officials explained to our reporter, “entitlement communities” under CDBG include those with populations in excess of 50,000 and those designated as principal cities in metropolitan statistical areas. Wheeling, with about 28,355 residents, in the past has been “grandfathered” into the program to keep CDBG money flowing.

Obama’s plan could eliminate that provision, leaving Wheeling out in the cold.

City Manager Robert Herron said the president’s budget proposal “is of great concern to us right now.” No wonder: Losing $1 million out of the municipal budget would be very hard on Wheeling.

Loss of “entitlement” status could force the city to compete for grant funding from another, much smaller pool of money routed through the state.

Obama’s budget proposal claims under the existing system, CDBG funding “is not optimally targeted based on community need or used most effectively in many cases.”

Perhaps not in some communities. But Wheeling makes excellent use of the money. Our city should not be penalized because some other CDBG recipients do not.

Members of Congress from West Virginia – and other states where communities would be shut out of funding – should not allow it to happen. Obama’s CDBG proposal should be rejected.