February 7, 2005
By DAVID LIGHTMAN, Washington Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON -- President
Bush today begins rolling out the tough, more incendiary details
of his agenda as he unveils his fiscal 2006 budget and the
expected wrenching cuts in popular community and social service
State and local officials in Connecticut are bracing for bad
news. One of the most obvious victims is expected to be the Community
Development Block Grant program, an important way of paying for
The program is expected to be cut sharply - it is likely to
be consolidated along with 17 other programs for a total savings
of $1.8 billion, according to reports - and the reverberations
could be felt locally in ways big and small.
In Hartford, for instance, the program now helps to pay for
an array of services, including weekend senior meals, after-school
youth programs and a Blue Hills Civic Association initiative
to shovel snow and rake leaves at the homes of seniors.
Also expected to be cut are Amtrak, school aid and a host of
"It's going to be a painful budget for Connecticut and
the entire region," said Richard Munson, executive director
of the Northeast-Midwest Institute, a Washington-based research
After weeks of lofty rhetoric and historic speeches, today the
White House gets down in the political trenches.
Connecticut should not see the budget as a doomsday document,
said David Keating, executive vice president at the Club for
Growth, a Washington-based conservative research group.
"You have to look not just at individual programs, but
the impact of the overall budget," Keating said. Cutting
spending will ultimately mean lower deficits and a healthier
economy, which will benefit everyone, he argued.
Connecticut's $13.3 billion general fund gets about $2.5 billion
from Washington. The state also gets $600 million more in transportation
and grant money - plus military contracts, help for health care
and other payments.
Although the overall total is not expected to drop drastically,
the state has at least two reasons for concern today.
One, the federal deficit is expected to reach $427 billion this
fiscal year, sharply limiting how much Washington spends on the
dozens of programs the state wants funded.
Bush wants to cut projected deficits in half by 2009, which
means few increases, and lots of cuts, in the array of aid programs.
In his State of the Union address last Wednesday, he said he
would hold the growth of discretionary programs - which include
many of the state and local aid packages - to less than the inflation
The second worry is that the state's ability to reverse these
trends is diminishing as political power shifts to the Sun Belt.
Perhaps the most deeply felt cuts could come from the community
grant program, long a favorite of older communities, particularly
in the Northeast.
According to Capitol Hill sources, the administration is planning
not only to cut funds, but shift the program from Housing and
Urban Development to the Commerce Department.
Activist groups are concerned such a shift would change the
program's mission. About one-fourth of community grant program
money last year was used for housing-related programs such as
rehabilitation and assistance for first-time homebuyers.
In addition, there are reports the program would be changed
to award money on a competitive basis, meaning towns and cities
would have to fight for funds. Now, cities like Hartford are
guaranteed money based on formulas that take into account income,
population, housing stock and other factors.
"It's very unsettling for everybody," said
Karen L. Winey, Hartford grants program administrator. Hartford
has already seen cutbacks. It got $4.4 million in community
grant money from this year's federal budget, down 5.6 percent
from the previous year.
The program has a broad reach in the city. Among its expenditures:
The Blue Hills Civic Association gets $12,500 annually to serve
125 young people. They are dispatched throughout the neighborhood
to shovel snow, rake leaves and deliver community newspapers
The San Juan Center gets $20,000 for its after-school program,
which helps pay for services to 65 children.
Center City Churches receives
$35,000 a year for its weekend senior meal program, the only
program of its kind in the city. If funding is cut, Winey said, "they
will probably have to cut down on weekends. They can't cut
back the number of meals; you can't say you'll only serve the
first 50 people."
Hartford Areas Rally Together CHARGE/HOME Program and Urban
League of Greater Hartford Inc. each received $67,500 this year
to help people move from rental units to city home ownership.
Other programs aimed at helping
low-income people, such as housing subsidies, Medicaid and
health care, also are expected to be cut significantly. They
tend to have "less powerful backers
than many other programs, such as farm programs or NASA," noted
Robert Greenstein, director of Washington's Center on Budget
and Policy Priorities.
Under health and human services, for instance, reductions are
possible in programs for mental health, maternal and child health,
preventive health, child care, community services and curbing
Connecticut's funding for each of these programs was cut in
the fiscal 2005 budget, and more reductions are expected.
Less dire is the outlook for transportation and energy. Regional
economist Matt Kane thought low-income energy assistance would
be funded at slightly below this year's total.
The one transportation component facing big trouble is Amtrak;
the president is expected to recommend eliminating the company's
Bush is expected to continue funding maintenance on the Washington-to-Boston
corridor, but ending the $1.2 billion subsidy Congress approved
last year to keep the system running.
The fight over these and other programs will probably go on
until the Christmas season. With record deficits and a determined,
freshly re-elected president fighting for the cuts, Connecticut
will have a huge fight on its hands.
"The Bush administration has made it clear," said
Kane, "they are very serious and determined to cut this
deficit, and they want significant cuts."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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