By Susan Bromley
-If approved, proposed federal budget cuts by President Donald Trump would affect people most in need of assistance in this community.
Trump released a proposed budget last month that included elimination of Community Development Block Grant funds, $3 billion in 2017, and for which, on average, the township receives about $32,000 annually.
“If the program is gone, it will hurt OCEF, BGYA, HAVEN and our senior center,” said Township Clerk Candee Allen. “This would directly impact us.”
The CDBG program, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development founded in 1974, provides communities across the country with funds to help with emergency and public services.
According to the HUD 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 an important tool 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.”
Rules for how the money must be used can be strict and results in a lot of paperwork for Allen, but the funding has been a benefit, particularly for the Edna Burton Senior Center, which has received many building improvements.
Allen explains that 70 percent of the funds received by the township through CDBG must be used for facilities and infrastructure improvement, but can only be used for those buildings that service senior citizens or low-income individuals. In the township, only the senior center qualifies, because although the township has infrastructure needs, funds must be used within a specific timeframe, limiting the size of projects.
In the past, the Old Mill Museum has also benefitted from CDBG funds for building repairs.
While most work on the senior center has been completed, several organizations that split the remaining 30 percent of CDBG funds in the township and whose work is never done, stand to lose if the funding is eliminated.
Brandon Groveland Youth Assistance provides scholarships for skill-building camps to youths from low-income families in the community using CDBG funds, which last year totaled $3,500.
The Ortonville Community Emergency Fund received $4,500 last year in CDBG funding, which OCEF treasurer Margaret Lee uses to purchase food in bulk from Gleaners Food Bank, as well as vouchers from Cook’s Farm Dairy, and Bueche’s food cards, for low-income families in the community.
“We are more or less counting on (CDBG funds),” said Lee, noting that the food pantry serves between 120-135 families a month in the Brandon School District. “This is money well served by taxpayers, it buys groceries for many people… This would be a painful cut. As funds dwindle down, we have to figure out what we should cut back on.”
HAVEN, which provides crisis and support services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, received $85,000 total in CDBG funds, allocated from the communities it serves in Oakland County, including $2,000 from Brandon Township.
Over the last five years, HAVEN has assisted 33 individuals in domestic violence situations in Ortonville, as well as 17 sexual assault survivors in this community, through therapy, counseling and emergency shelter.
CDBG funding is a critical concern for HAVEN, said Emily Matuszczak, senior director of programs.
“When we talk funding, we’re talking about people’s safety and individuals who need a place to heal and where they are supported through a variety of services,” she said. “For us, there is never a fee for service. Currently, we’ve been able to operate with no waiting list or minimal waiting. If I have to cut the budget, there will be waiting after a traumatic incident. You can’t wait after a traumatic incident, you have to get in right away.”
In all, HAVEN served 4,800 clients last year, not including those who called the crisis line. She cites Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control statistics that state one in four Michigan families will experience domestic violence.
“You would think for being the year of 2017 it wouldn’t be that high,” she said. “I am really concerned that it isn’t looked at as critical of an issue as it is. It affects a profound number, it shouldn’t be minimized, there shouldn’t be cuts, I think more help is needed. I haven’t heard any suggestions for replacement. They don’t provide alternatives, just what they need to do and you’re just on your own. What we will do is look at private donations and individuals to support us. We already do that. There are still people out there that may not know yet that the cuts are really happening and how much it is needed and the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault in our state and their communities.”
Lee notes that OCEF has benefitted from a generous community, but funding is always a concern for the food pantry as well, particularly with the loss of a community garage sale due to lack of volunteers and an aging population.
“Counting on people to donate more is a game, especially as community ages up and donors spend more time in Florida, it becomes more difficult,” she said. “Private donations change… God provides, we just keep on keeping on.”