The Obama Administration honored Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday on February 6 by proposing steep cuts
to two of the leading programs for the urban poor: community service grants and community development block grants (CDBG). According to White House Budget Director Jacob Lew, the former will be cut in half, with the balance going to a “competitive grant program.” CDBG funding, which has never recovered from Reagan’s budget slashing, will be cut by 7.5%, or $300 million. Meanwhile, Obama criticized the intelligence community’s failure
to foresee the Egyptian uprising, but did not reduce its $80 billion budget. And the military is being cut less than $16 billion next year, a pittance in light of massive Bush era increases. “Community organizer” Obama will cut organizing jobs in low-income communities more than any president since Reagan, which is consistent with his failure to even mention
the poor or poverty in his recent State of the Union address.
I have to give Barack Obama credit for convincing even longtime advocates for the poor and low-income neighborhoods – people like myself – that his community organizing background meant that we would have an organizer’s ally in the White House. Obama has instead proved disastrous for community organizing in the United States, from his knee jerk defunding of ACORN, to his ignoring the views of the grassroots base that won him the Democratic nomination, to now his efforts to defund what little is left of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
Even “new Democrat” Bill Clinton did not prioritize cutting programs for the urban poor. But, as with Obama’s disdain for organized labor
, the President feels he can get away with slashing longstanding anti-poverty programs due to his relationship with DC-based community advocacy groups who refuse to publicly criticize him.
According to Budget Director Lew, “community service block grants have helped to support community action organizations in cities and towns across the country. These are grassroots groups working in poor communities, dedicated to empowering those living there and helping them with some of life’s basic necessities. These are the kinds of programs that President Obama worked with when he was a community organizer, so this cut is not easy for him.”
What a lie. Cutting grants to grassroots groups assisting the poor is an easy move for the President. The tough and principled move would be to say that cuts to the poor in the current economic environment are off the table, particularly given how small the savings are in actual dollars.
President Obama has not made a single tough decision to help the poor since taking office. He is the ultimate hypocrite when it comes to the contrast between his words about community empowerment and his actions.
As for the CDBG cuts, how does this match Obama’s stated commitment to investment? CDBG overwhelmingly funds “brick and mortar” projects in low and moderate communities, creating the type of blue-collar jobs the President claims to want to create.
The Obama Administration says the community service grants “do not consider how good a job the recipients are doing.” By this standard, and the President’s own assessment, it’s the $80 billion intelligence budget that should instead be cut in half.
Will Senate Stop Anti-Poverty Cuts?
With Republicans controlling the House, Obama’s proposals become the starting points for further cuts. The question is whether the Senate will be able to stop Obama’s proposed cuts to these vital urban programs.
It will be difficult, but not impossible. There are some Senators, like California’s Dianne Feinstein, who historically are big CBDG defenders – and they might succeed in finding $300 million to cut elsewhere.
The community service program will be harder to save, since the total budget remains the same, only the allocation process will change. Of course, expect lengthy delays in setting guidelines for this process, which practically means a 50% cut next year.
Ronald Reagan consistently rewarded his core base; Barack Obama betrays his, and the cuts to these already deeply underfunded urban programs shows that there is no constituency too loyal for him not to let down.
For hope and inspiration in these trying times, try Randy Shaw's Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. Shaw is also the author of The Activist’s Handbook.