Among the constituencies bracing for deep cuts in the fiscal 2012 federal budget, African-Americans are as worried as anyone. And with good reason, as President Obama explained to a group of black elected officials gathered at the White House Tuesday.
Obama soon will submit to Congress a proposed budget that would slice $300 million from community development block grants, the biggest funding source enabling local governments to deliver everything from economic development to road repairs to law enforcement resources — particularly in communities with heavy concentrations of poor and minority residents.
The administration also wants to slash half the $350 million in annual spending on community service block grants, which aid the poorest children and families. (The change also would convert the program into a competitive grant process.)
Not a rosy outlook for members of the National Policy Alliance who attended the White House meetings as representatives for several associations of black mayors, state lawmakers and local officials. It compounds the economic downturn's harsh impact on blacks, whose unemployment rate is at 15.7 percent, compared with the national rate of 9 percent
It also reinforces past questions raised by some black leaders about the Obama administration's commitment to addressing issues that disproportionately affect minorities. As evidence, some skeptics cite the White House Office of Urban Affairs. Obama created it two years ago to great anticipation, but it's since been criticized as ineffective and rudderless after the 2010 departure of its director, Adolfo Carrion Jr.
If Obama's guests on Tuesday shared such frustrations, or had hoped that the administration would do more to protect their federal funding, they didn't let on. Instead, they praised Obama's efforts to present potentially new government funding efforts in such initiatives as job training for the energy sector.
"The president has established priorities, and we're here to support what he's doing," East Orange, N.J., Mayor Robert Bowser told reporters following the meetings. Bowser heads the National Conference of Black Mayors.
"In the economic conditions that we find ourselves in, every community in America…is cutting back," Webster Guillory, chairman of the National Organization of Black County Officials, said in the meeting with reporters. Guillory, the assessor in Orange County, Calif., added that he and other local black officials "must do our part. … We're not against taking a look at how we provide services."
Not everyone held their tongues. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-KS), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus who attended the White House meetings, issued a statement:
"I personally expressed my concern to President Obama on the pending cuts to Community Development Block Grants…I believe that this is a time when we should increase funding for CDBG, not cut it. Our community continues to suffer tremendously from the recession, and we will be one of the last to recover. There is no fairness to rebuilding our economy on the backs of Americans who can least afford it."