ELIZABETH, NJ – Sheriff Joseph Cryan looked out from the podium at Saint Joseph’s Social Service Center on Division Street and declared, “The budget isn’t about the numbers. It’s about the people.”
The budget Cryan, who is currently running for state senator, is referring to is the proposed federal budget where President Trump is seeking to slash funding for Community Development Block Grants by 50 percent.
The prospect of losing CDBG funding brought out city, county, state, and federal leaders to a press conference April 24 at Saint Joseph’s. Present to voice their opposition to the cuts were Mayor Christian Bollwage, Assembly members Jamel Holley and Annette Quijano, representatives from senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, Freeholders Sergio Granados and Angel Estrada, and City Council President Carlos Torres, as well as Sheriff Cryan. Also in attendance were County Manager Al Faella, Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski, and Councilman Kevin Kiniery.
“As the fourth largest municipality in New Jersey, Elizabeth depends on federal funding such as CDBG to supplement programs and services to assist our residents,” said Mayor Bollwage. “Recently, the President proposed the elimination of this program, which will have a negative impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of our local community. Cutting subsidies to meet a budget without talking to constituents or organizations is just not the answer, and I encourage all of you, who are here today, to reach out to Congress and show your support for this vital program.”
The grants support a variety of programs and services such as low income and senior housing, youth programs such as Big Brother and Big Sister, homeless prevention programs, and infrastructure projects. In Elizabeth, CDBG has helped provide assistance to first-time homebuyers, make funding available for necessary infrastructure improvements, delivers a safety presence in neighborhoods and creates recreational opportunities for residents.
According to the CDBG website, “The CDBG program works to ensure decent affordable housing, to provide services to the most vulnerable in our communities, and to create jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses. CDBG is important tools for helping local governments tackle serious challenges facing their communities. The CDBG program has made a difference in the lives of millions of people and their communities across the Nation.”
In Union County, 19 communities receive CDBG funding for a total $1.65 million, according Freeholder vice chair Granados. “These programs are vital to our community. CDBG are not something we play with. These programs affect people’s lives.”
Granados also spoke of the threat to HOME funds, a federal assistance program provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He reported that this funding expanded access to 848 units of housing, including 330 senior housing, 166 homebuyer assistance, 71 units of special needs housing, and 281 low-income housing.
CDBG funding also spurs investment in the community. For every $1 of CDBG money, $3.65 is generated and matched in private investments, according to Senator Robert Menendez’s office. “This program empowers cities,” said the senator in a written message to the audience. “Over 1,200 state and local governments use these grants.”
“I almost fell off my chair when I heard the president was thinking of eliminating this program,” said Assemblywoman Quijano. “How can anyone cut the Adult Literacy Program? These programs are safety nets, homeless shelters, youth music and art programs. I stand ready with my colleagues in the Assembly to fight this because, let’s be honest, these are the values we hold.”
Added her colleague Assemblyman Jamel Holley, “From my tenure as Mayor of Roselle to now being the current Assemblyman for the 20th Legislative District, I have watched CDBG act as a catalyst for community transformations, provide affordable and suitable housing as well as create jobs for people in Roselle, throughout Union County and all around the country. All of us here today are dedicated to the restoration and continuation of the Community Development Block Grant - let us send a strong message that the cuts to this program are unacceptable. The Trump Administration needs to appropriately fund CDBG so that we can continue moving forward and help our communities grow.”
Linda Tober-Flores, executive director of the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, spoke first hand of the importance of these grants. “These funds are an investment in the community. It says we matter.”
She continued to say that 78 percent of the people who come to the Coalition are working poor families, struggling to make ends meet. “We have helped 1,500 people with these funds. People come to us every day, and they are working. We need to fight for these families. No is not an acceptable answer in our community.”
Mayor Bollwage launched a call to action asking the audience to contact their representatives to push for keeping the CDBG funding. “Every year, we highlight the success of the CDBG. We need to get things like this back in the budget. We need this to remain for our cities, our counties and throughout the entire nation.”