October 10, 2010; Source: Augusta Chronicle | When your Community Development Block Grant funding gets cut, and cut again, and cut even some more, it doesn’t hurt if the head of the city’s CDBG program said that he had planned the cuts long in advance. Sure, it doesn’t hurt at all.

Here’s the story from Augusta: The city got whacked with a $300,000 penalty by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for having misspent CDBG money. So where is the money going to come from? The CDBG director spliced the cuts in the nonprofit portion of CDBG funds for 2010, 2011, and 2012. “I don’t foresee it having a negative effect,” he said. He maintains that the city doesn’t always give nonprofits the money they request and sometimes a few don’t spend all they had budgeted.

Surprise, surprise, surprise, but the nonprofits don’t agree. Hope House, for example, which provides treatment and housing for addicted and homeless women and children, got the maximum “public services” grant from Augusta’s CDBG funds in 2009—$25,000—but got zero in 2010 and will get the same goose-egg in 2011. “He can make that statement [about no negative effects],” Hope House Director of Development Stephanie Suarez said, “but in the context of Hope House, we didn’t get any this year and we won’t get any next year. So, no, it doesn’t make sense.”

Some groups will get money in 2011, a couple will get more than they got in 2010, so the nonprofit community is more than a bit divided over the strategy. A citizens advisory group formed in 2000 to help the city get through what appear to be past CDBG muck-ups didn’t get to work on helping prevent the latest program. According to the advisory board’s chair, the CDBG administrator “didn’t like being questioned and refused to meet with the board or provide it documents . . . rendering the board inert.”

The Chronicle doesn’t say, but it appears that the cuts in CDBG to pay the penalty are not going to come from the money that the city controls itself, its own administrative costs, or the development budget. The fact that cities give and take away CDBG funds from nonprofit human service providers at the drop of a hat suggests that they really don’t have a commitment or strategy to the role of nonprofit human services in overall community development.—Rick Cohen