Although President Bush's inauguration today is a celebration of democracy, complete with a speech outlining his second-term agenda, a huge parade, a prayer service and numerous inaugural balls, the challenges confronting the United States at home and abroad will be on the minds of many Americans.
In his address at noon following his swearing-in, the president was expected to discuss his goals of advancing freedom around the world and giving the American people more control over their lives at home. There weren't going to be any specifics, but that is not unusual. Inaugural speeches are meant to provide an overview, with the details coming at the president's State of the Union address in early February.
When Bush does go before the joint session of Congress, we look forward to hearing his explanation for the administration's plans for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Those plans could well cause havoc in cities like Youngstown that have a large concentration of low- and moderate-income residents, double-digit unemployment, a high poverty rate and deteriorating housing stock.
According to the Washington Post, the White House "will seek to drastically shrink the Department of Housing and Urban Development's $8 billion community branch," and a major victim of this shrinkage will be the $4.7 billion Community Development Block Grant program. The Post quotes congressional housing aides as saying the CDBG program could be cut by as much as 50 percent.
Lifeblood of communities
Considering that CDBG money has been lifeblood of cities like Youngstown and Warren for decades, the Bush administration's targeting of HUD should worry mayors, members of city council and even county commissioners. With the state of Ohio bracing for a $4 billion to $5 billion shortfall in the general fund in the next biennium, local governments are being warned that money from Columbus is no longer a sure thing. Indeed, even higher education could take a major hit.
Federal dollars thus become exceedingly important. HUD's $8 billion community branch supports economic development projects, rural housing programs and anti-poverty initiatives.
Community Development funds are used for just about everything in targeted areas that have a concentration of low- and moderate-income residents.
In the Mahoning Valley, Youngstown has been the leading recipient of CDBG money, which is why Mayor George M. McKelvey must lead the charge in urging the Bush administration to rethink its plans for HUD.
McKelvey, who has boasted about his personal relationship with the president as a result of his endorsing Bush in last November's election, must impress upon his new-found friends in the White House that Youngstown, Warren and other depressed communities in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys cannot absorb any cuts in CDBG funding.
The mayor should point out to the White House that when Joseph Galvan, HUD's midwest regional director, visited Youngstown in August, he had a check for $5,975,945 which he presented with great flourish to city officials. Galvan visited the site of the convocation center, which is being built with a $26.8 million HUD grant, and gushed about "the rebirth, the Phoenix, of this community rising from the ashes."
If the Bush administration goes forward with its plan to shrink HUD, it could be well be ashes to ashes for cities like Youngstown.