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Community Development Block grants helped remodel senior center kitchen, complete school safety project in Forest Grove

When it comes to federal government programs, "pork" is in the eye of beholder.

President Donald Trump released a rough draft of his first-ever budget in March, and one of his proposals wwas the elimination of Community Development Block Grants, a program that dates from 1974 as part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The grants sound so bureaucratic, so dry and uninteresting that most residents probably didn't react to the news. The program sounds like classic inside-the-Beltway governmentese. The president wants to cut CDBGs? I don't know what that is, so why not?

The block grants are a perfect example of government done right. The grants go to cities, counties or states in order to address issues that affect low-income residents. The communities receiving the grants get to decide how they use them.

This isn't an unfunded federal mandate, it's the exact opposite.

For conservatives who think the federal government should let states and communities solve their own problems, block grants should be a shining example of how it works.

For liberals who want to address income inequality, the block grants also stand as a shining example.

During the last two-year grant cycle, a $350,000 CDBG paid for the remodel of the kitchen inside the Forest Grove Senior & Community Center on Douglas Street, according to Mayor Pete Truax.

CDBG funds also augmented the city's sewer system after Fir Road near Highway 26 was annexed into the city.

And, a Sidewalks to Schools project near Joseph Gale Elementary Schools, funded by a CDBG, contributed to the safety of students who walk to school.

Former longtime Forest Grove City Councilor Richard Kidd — who sits on the Washington County Community Development Block Grant Board, which is tasked with reviewing all applications for the funding — said the grants are an important part of efforts to improve local communities.

"CDBG funding is necessary to Washington County and to Forest Grove to help us develop and maintain livability," Kidd said.

What do you want your federal government spending your tax dollars on? Ask any 10 people, and you'll get 10 answers. Some will point to another aircraft carrier, or another disease eradicated. Some will say Medicare, and some will say agriculture investments. All good answers, depending on your point of view. But ask 10 Forest Grove residents if they believe in the value of the senior center, and you'll likely go 10-for-10 with a resounding "yes." Just ask Mayor Pete Truax, who recently attended a National League of Cities event in Washington, D.C., where CDBG's were a topic of national interest.

"Community Development Block Grants are important to Forest Grove and Oregon, but they're also huge to a great number of states, including 'red' states," Truax said.

These are tangible programs that benefit our families, our blocks, our neighborhoods, our cities, our Oregon.

Some people don't want the federal government to be in the business of funding good works. Surely churches and volunteer organizations can do that. But even those critics should applaud the block grants, because they're among the most highly leveraged of federal programs. One study from 2015 showed that, for every $1 of CDBG money a community received, it put $4.07 of local or private matching money on the table.

The block grants aren't a handout to cities. They prime the pump so cities can identify, and fix, the problems each perceive to be most in need of attention.

We have not seen the president's first full budget proposal; that'll come later this spring. The idea of nixing the block grants appeared in his so-called "skinny budget," which is heavy of philosophy and light on actual dollar figures. Many past presidents have issued "skinny budgets" to let Congress get the gist of the real budget before it arrives.

We hope Congress takes to heart the president's gist — and blocks it. Conservatives and liberals alike can find a lot to recommend in a well-leveraged program that lets each community roll up its sleeves and fix its most dire problems.

Is there bloat in our federal budget? Of course there is. But the analogy of babies and bathwater comes to mind when it comes to Community Development Block Grants.

This is an example of doing good, and doing it well. This is government getting it right.

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