Durham groups concerned over possible federal funding cuts
Posted March 10, 2017 4:56 p.m. EST
Updated March 10, 2017 6:51 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON — Housing Secretary Ben Carson reassured his agency that budget cuts may not be as steep as some fear, even as housing advocates and others brace for deep reductions to public housing and anti-poverty programs.
The cuts said to be under consideration, more than $6 billion, would target community development block grants and some public housing money. The idea would be to help offset some of the $54 billion increase in defense spending that President Donald Trump is seeking.
In an email Thursday to Department of Housing and Urban Development employees, the newly-confirmed Carson cautioned that the budget numbers were preliminary and that "starting numbers are rarely final numbers."
"Rest assured, we are working hard to support those programs that help so many Americans, focus on our core mission, and ensure that every tax dollar is spent wisely and effectively," wrote Carson, who was confirmed as HUD secretary late last week.
On Friday, Durham leaders spent the day developing emergency plans in case the cuts impact them.
"It's an extremely big matter of concern for us," said Anthony Scott, Durham Housing Authority’s CEO. "With this sort of cut, it's going to devastate our ability to operate in a way that's acceptable."
The Washington Post reported late Wednesday that early numbers for fiscal year 2018 showed HUD's overall budget being slashed about 14 percent, to $40.5 billion — including cuts of about $2 billion from public housing funds and the elimination of the Community Development Block Grant Program, which funds local improvement efforts and other programs.
"We are now probably going to be in a position where we're going to have to freeze," Scott said. "At least until we know what's happening."
At Durham's Families Moving Forward, Executive Director Ryan Fehrman said the cuts are also a concern to his group.
"It's definitely a real threat," he said. "It's really a critical part of our funding stream, so it would be a tough loss for us."
Fehrman said at this point, all he can do is hope the proposal doesn't come to fruition.
"My personal hope with the new administration was that there was going to be attention to the little guy,” he said. “You know, the person that had been ignored or was kind of behind the eight ball. It's very discouraging to kind of see these types of cuts at programs targeting poor folks so quickly.”
At his confirmation hearing in January, Carson took a softer approach toward the role of the federal government than he sometimes did on the presidential campaign trail, where he challenged Trump for the GOP nomination.
When reminded that he had called for across-the-board agency spending cuts of 10 percent during the campaign, Carson told the Senate banking committee that he later modified that amount to 1 percent.
He also said HUD's rental assistance programs are "essential" to millions of Americans and said the agency had many good programs.
He added, though: "We don't want it to be way of life. ... We want it to be a Band-Aid and a springboard to move forward."