President Bush’s proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2007 contains $2.77 trillion in spending—not a penny of it set aside for a long-standing program called Community Service Block Grants (CSBG).
To understand the impact of CSBGs on Western Montana, the first stop has to be an organization called the Human Resource Council (HRC), which administers all CSBG funds appropriated for use in Missoula, Ravalli and Mineral counties. According to HRC Vice President Jim Morton, CSBGs generally fund “local initiatives to address the needs of low-income individuals in which each partnership determines priority programs locally.”
What that translates to in HRC’s service area is an assortment of nearly a dozen programs serving approximately 9,000 people each year. CSBGs are not the only funding for those programs—in fact they make up only about 10 percent of HRC’s annual budget—but Morton says they are important to the agency because unrestricted CSBG money “leverages a lot of restricted money.”
One example is a CSBG-funded program that employs case workers to ensure that clients who receive assistance earmarked for rent, heat or medical expenses do not allow that assistance to lapse, since many clients lack the skills to keep up with paperwork and appointments. “If we didn’t have staff to call back or drop by, that person could potentially lose a subsidy just for forgetting or not understanding.”
Cutting CSBG funding raises a larger issue than HRC’s ability to provide services, however. Pressures from tax cuts, Iraq, terrorism and aging Baby Boomers, says Morton, “put Congress at a crossroads…What do they want the American government to be doing for its citizens?”
Last year, when the president proposed eliminating CSBGs, Congress decided it wanted the services to continue and restored funding. Morton is “optimistic that the delegation will see the need for CSBGs” during the current budget cycle as well.
His hope seems well-founded. In response to the proposed elimination of CSBGs from the current budget, Congressman Denny Rehberg’s office released the following statement: “Last year, the President proposed to eliminate the funding, and Congressman Rehberg helped restore the funding to $637 million. Congressman Rehberg plans to roll up his sleeves and work on the issue again.”