January 27, 2011

Obama's Community-Action Spending Plans Trigger Concern

David Bradley (pictured), a longtime antipoverty activist, was in a jovial mood Tuesday as he watched President Obama's State of the Union address. He had a spot in the House of Representatives gallery and was "savoring the historic intimacy of that evening," he says.

All of a sudden, he says, "life became a blur." The president began talking about his proposal to freeze some domestic spending for five years to help close the nation's mushrooming budget deficit. Then he singled out one, and only one, social program.

"I've proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community-action programs,"  Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Bradley's heart sank. As executive director of the National Community Action Foundation since 1981, he has devoted much of his life to nurturing the programs that the president announced he plans to curtail.

In fact, he helped design the Community Services Block Grant program, which provides $700-million a year to states and organizations for projects that offer education, employment, health care, housing, and other services to low-income people. Most of that money goes to about 1,000 community-action agencies across the country that manage local antipoverty projects.

Mr. Bradley's organization in Washington supports the agencies by lobbying, conducting research, and providing training seminars for policy makers.

"I was expecting a bad budget," Mr. Bradley says, "but not a State of the Union mention, not a State of the Union attack."

Mr. Obama gave no details about the possible cuts, and the White House press office declined to elaborate. The world will learn more when the president submits his budget for the 2012 fiscal year next month.

Mr. Bradley says he's been flooded with calls from supporters asking, "What are you going to do?" He's hoping to line up support from Congress, which showed some love for community-action programs by offering $1-billion in stimulus money for Community Services Block Grants in 2009.

But he's somewhat pessimistic. Given the pressure on lawmakers to trim spending, he says, they may find it difficult to reject a proposal for cuts from the president himself.