English Language Center

Akissi Kouassi, from Ivory Coast, left, and Keysha González, from Puerto Rico, practice object pronouns at the English Language Center on Monday night as volunteer Janet Voldness, center, helps a student. The English Language Center was awarded $17,500 last year from the Community Development Block Grant, or CDBG, program to help pay for a new roof. The Trump administration wants to eliminate CDBG.

Sean Dolan/Herald Journal | Logan Herald Journal

Six days after the Logan Municipal Council heard a staff report on the Community Development Block Grant program year for 2018, the Trump administration recommended eliminating the program entirely in its 2019 budget proposal.

It’s the second year that CDBG, the $3 billion federal program that funds local infrastructure projects and nonprofits that benefit low- to moderate-income residents, has been targeted by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Last year, Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint, called “America First,” proposed the elimination of CDBG, stating it is “not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.” Congress went on to approve the normal funding level. On Monday morning, the Department of Housing and Urban Development doubled down on that claim in its 2019 budget proposal, stating CDBG is “not well targeted to the poorest communities and has not demonstrated a measurable impact on communities.”

Some locals who run programs that receive CDBG funds disagree.

“Are you kidding me?” said Katie Jensen, founder and director of the English Language Center in Logan.

Without funding from CDBG, she said, the adult immigrant students at the English Language Center might still be holding up buckets when it rains. Despite Trump’s budget proposal, Congress allocated $432,777 in CDBG funding for Logan last year. Of that, $17,500 went to help the English Language Center build a new roof, which was installed earlier this winter. Jensen said 95 percent of their students have low or very low income.

Jensen said she can’t speak for other communities, but CDBG funding is “vitally important” for nonprofits in Cache Valley. Other recipients last year include the Bear River Area of Governments homebuyer education program, the Bridgerland Literacy Labs and the Assistive Technology Lab at USU.

“For our valley, I just don’t get what the president is talking about,” Jensen said.

Logan CDBG Planner Aaron Smith, like everyone else, was unsure how funding would play out for the current 2018 program year when he addressed the Municipal Council last Tuesday to explain the timeline and planning process for local projects. He said Congress had been “kicking the can down the road” to fund the government with continuing resolutions, but that changed the following day when the Senate reached a two-year agreement to increase military and domestic spending.

Smith said he isn’t sure if that spending deal would fund CDBG. The full text of the bill allocates community development funding for hurricane relief, but no explicit references to CDBG could be found.

“I actually had to shoot off a message to HUD this morning to say, ‘Hey, are we funded?’” Smith said Monday. “I’m not exactly sure where it stands.”

The Trump administration’s 2019 budget proposal, which may have little to no impact on the actual budget that Congress adopts, is not related to the current CDBG program year.

But funding was threatened last year, and Smith, whose salary is funded entirely through CDBG, now finds himself in the same dilemma. In a normal year, Smith said CDBG projects can get started July 1 and continue throughout the late summer and fall. With the late funding announcement last year, however, projects got started well into August.

“Everybody gets anxious to try to get projects going,” Smith said. “I had to keep saying, ‘No, we’re still waiting on Congress.’ It became pretty obnoxious, I think, for a lot of folks.”

Projects like installing a new roof at the English Language Center are just a fraction of CDBG’s local impact. Logan’s five-year CDBG plan calls for 65 to 70 percent of funding to go toward infrastructure — like installing sidewalks and ADA-compliant street corners — while 10 to 15 percent goes to nonprofits. The remaining 20 percent goes to administration and planning.

No matter what the project is, HUD requires them to benefit low- to moderate-income areas. Smith said HUD provides cities with census block data to identify eligible neighborhoods. When they need more data, Logan surveys areas to justify projects. For example, Logan has surveyed the residents of a mobile home park to justify a nearby sidewalk.

Smith said the Trump administration’s proposal to end CDBG is frustrating. He said the goal of the program isn’t to lift people out of poverty, but rather to create places where the environmental effects of poverty are negated.

“It allows us to make neighborhoods of opportunity where the resources and the infrastructure is in place for safe walking, for moving around, for getting to work,” he said.

At last week’s meeting, Municipal Councilman Herm Olsen suggested Logan send a letter to their representatives in Congress to show local support for CDBG.

“This community very much appreciates that program and supports it and wants it continued,” Olsen said.

sdolan@hjnews.com Twitter: @RealSeanDolanoi