Under President Obama''s proposed budget, cities and towns would lose about $300 million in Community Development Block Grant funding.
The program has enjoyed bipartisan support for nearly 40 years, and funds services like affordable housing, after-school programs and improvements to roads, sewers and fire stations.
We speak with Setti Warren, the Democratic mayor from Newton, Massachusetts and chair of the U.S. Mayors' Conference Community Development and Housing Committee. Read a transcript of our interview with him.
Newton, Massachusetts Mayor Setti Warren
Robin Young: Why should the federal government be in the business of block grants? Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona says that they make towns and cities addicted to the funds. What's your response?
Mayor Sett Warren: It is absolutely critical at this time, when we have unemployment over 9 percent, that we continue to create jobs for people, we continue to protect the most vulnerable in our society, and we continue to ensure we have a shared responsibility in this country. This isn't just about service to people who are most in need, but it's also for small businesses that can create jobs.
"It is absolutely critical at this time, when we have unemployment over 9 percent, that we continue to create jobs for people, we continue to protect the most vulnerable in our society."Newton, Massachusetts Mayor Setti Warren
RY: Give us an example.
SW: My community of Newton, for example, we get $2.4 million worth of community block grants. It goes to affordable housing, goes to people who are most in need in my community. Vouchers for child care, for example, for families that are struggling. So we're creating jobs, we're protecting those who are most in need.
RY: Newton is a wealthy town. Median household income is $105,000 versus $51,000 nationwide. But still, the symbol of government largesse in Massachusetts is the new high school in Newton. It grew from costing $109 million to nearly $200 million, Newton taxpayers will pay for most, the state kicked in some, but it becomes a perception issue. People look at a town like Newton, and say why does your town need any block grants? Why can't the town help people in the town who need help?
SW: It's a great question. It's one of the reasons why I got elected, was around issues of the high school, and I got elected over a year ago, ensuring we are spending money wisely. We have a capital plan, we are investing where we actually need to invest in capital projects and roads, but the fact is, Newton has 6% unemployment, Newton has people who are struggling in socioeconomic, every community does. We have representatives from every socioeconomic group in our community, and we have to ensure that we protect those that are most in need.
RY: But should the federal government be doing it?
SW: Absolutely. Well, the federal government's responsibility... You know my grandfather was a member of the greatest generation. He was a World War Two veteran, fought in the Battle of the Bulge. This generation of Americans needs to have a shared responsibility over what we're spending and what our investments (are).
RY: Federal dollars are shared? Is that what you mean?
SW: Well we have to ensure, as the president said that we are balancing the budget for the future, but we can't balance the budget on the backs of those most vulnerable, and the poor. And we have to make investments in the future. I'm pleased with the president's attempts to rein in spending in the defense budget, but this country has got to begin to have a conversation about our entitlement programs.
RY: And you are one who would say we need to look at those big ticket items, but there are people that want to cut out block grants entirely. Could Newton survive without them?
SW: You're hurting the most vulnerable in our society. The elderly, young people, working families. You're really cutting off their opportunity to grow and grow this economy at a time where we're still getting through a recession. Oftentimes I say, we've see Wall Street roaring back with huge bonuses, that has to happen on Main Street. We have to ensure that we continue that job stimulation, economic development and improvement, and also protect those who are the most vulnerable for the future.
This segment aired on February 15, 2011.