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Proposed cuts to CDBG program worries Utah leaders

Published: Wednesday, March 2 2011 3:44 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Earlier this winter, a Head Start staff member looked out a classroom window and observed an underdressed young boy shivering as he played outside.

The woman brought the child into the school, sat him down and began looking through boxes of clothing to find a winter coat that would fit the boy.

Then she noticed the child's shoes; they were easily two sizes too small. His toes were curled up inside the shoes to make them fit. He wore rubber gloves as socks to keep his feet warm.

Because the boy was where he was, and because Head Start staff members do what they do, the boy went home wearing clothing appropriate for a chilly winter day. Head Start went a step further and helped the boy's family, making sure none of them went without clothing, food and other necessities.

Proposed cuts to federal programs that keep services such as Head Start operating have service providers and local government officials worried about what would happen to the boy, his family and others like them if those services go away.

"That's the reality of it," said Erin Trenbeath-Murray, director of Head Start programs in Salt Lake and Tooele counties. "Real children in our community. Real families who depend on us and need us. When we have to shut down because we can't provide basic elements of heat, there's a problem."

Trenbeath-Murray joined a handful of fellow service providers and local elected officials at a news conference Wednesday, calling on Congress to rethink its plans to cut funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program by more than 62 percent.

The proposal already has received approval in the House of Representatives. If passed by the Senate, it likely would result in the elimination, or at very least cuts to programs and services that help the country's most vulnerable citizens.

"Funding (the Community Development Block Grant program) is a moral test for our nation," Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said. "And today I stand with other Utah mayors and other elected officials to ask our federal government to pass that moral test and make sure we're funding these needed programs for our communities."

Corroon was scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C., Wednesday to meet with Utah's congressional delegation about the importance of CDBG funding to Utah's most needy residents — the homeless, elderly, low-income families, veterans and the unemployed.

"(The proposed cuts) would severely affect those most disadvantaged in our community," Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said.

Becker shared his concerns about the cuts with the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday night, making them aware of the "painful decisions" ahead if federal funding through the CDBG program were to take a significant hit.

In August, the city received applications collectively seeking $10.8 million in federal funding. Without any cuts to the level of federal funding, Salt Lake City only would be able to accommodate half of those requests, Becker said.

"The city will have no choice but to make difficult decisions on how to make the best of the federal allocations we receive," he said.

LeAnn Saldivar, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake, said the CDBG program is more than "just another federal program." These dollars go directly to those who need it most, she said.

"Our congressional leaders certainly have a challenge ahead of them getting our nation's economy back on track," Saldivar said. "But it is not appropriate or right to do it on the backs of kids, families and seniors in our most distressed communities."

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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