There are many ways in which President Trump has signaled his lack of commitment to strengthening and growing the middle class in this country, but his budget is perhaps the clearest signal that his priorities focus on the privileged few rather than the many. The results, if his budget is to move forward, are harmful to us all.
Among the programs that are identified for outright elimination in Trump’s budget blueprint is the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG). This $714 million program, run through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, supports organizations across the country working in poor communities to connect families to services and jobs and, in so doing, strengthen communities.
North Carolina allocates $20 million each year to 35 organizations, primarily Community Action Agencies, operating from Union to Nash and Edgecombe counties with the dollars it receives through the CSBG program. These organizations deliver locally tailored services to families living in poverty—from case management to job referrals and training to food assistance—and build collaborations with faith-based organizations and private sector efforts to stabilize neighborhoods, as well as strengthen community engagement to promote economic security and inclusion. The vast majority of funds in North Carolina are spent on self-sufficiency programming, education and employment activities.
CSBG funding in North Carolina served 120,000 people in 2016. Nearly 40 percent of those receiving services had earnings from work, often also supplemented by other assistance to make ends meet. Ninety-nine percent had low incomes—below $46,000 or so annually for a family of four.
These institutions in North Carolina, and across the country, are also often a key infrastructure for responding to natural disasters. They communicate the emergency resources available to affected families, coordinate services in communities and fund immediate relief and long-term rebuilding activities.
In the work to strengthen the state’s economy, a retreat by the federal government from its commitment to fund anti-poverty and community building programs will need to be met by North Carolina policymakers. Absent these dollars, North Carolina risks the loss of another important infrastructure statewide that connects more people and places to opportunity.