Congress plans to provide more local support to fight poverty / Public Information Service
May is Community Action Monthand local agencies helping low-income families hope Congress approves a plan to strengthen and modernize their federal support.
Community action agencies help provide services such as job training and energy assistance. The House recently approved a new ten-year authorization of the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG). Among the changes is a proposal to permanently increase income eligibility for people served by local programs.
Annie Shapiro, advocacy director for the Minnesota Community Action Partnership, said it was especially timely for families struggling with inflation and making just enough money to lose aid.
“Maybe they add an extra shift to work and start earning more,” Shapiro explained. “But in reality, either their actual purchasing power hasn’t changed because they’ve lost a lot of those benefits, or it’s still lower than it was before.”
The reauthorization would also increase annual funding to $1 billion. Shapiro stressed that this would give agencies more flexibility to tackle areas such as housing assistance, given skyrocketing rental costs. While the plan enjoys bipartisan support, some House Republicans have questioned the idea of expanding the scope of the program without knowing its effectiveness on a broader level.
Shapiro countered that it is impractical to give individual agencies an overall rating, as each responds differently to needs in its service area.
“For examples from Minnesota, some of our agencies are using their CSBG funds to help fund their food shelves,” Shapiro noted. “Food departments receive some funding, but are often not funded from other sources.”
Emily Bombich, director of planning for the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, said part of their funding has gone towards providing shoes and boots to community members in need. She argued that an overwhelming response for the articles leads them to believe they could help others with additional congressional support.
“If we could give them this gift without them having to buy shoes for their kids, then maybe they could stretch their money further,” Bombich suggested.
Supporters said the grant program hasn’t seen a reauthorization like this in nearly two decades and hope bipartisan support continues in the Senate.
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