The U.S. House of Representatives is proposing major cuts to a block grant that funds everything from roof repairs to STD testing in York.
Two of the county's federal legislators favor cuts while a third warns of dire economic effects if cuts are enacted.
The House proposal would cut funding for the Community Development Block Grant nearly in half, to $1.6 billion, while the Senate wants level funding at $3.15 billion.
York County received more than $2 million from the grants in 2012, with about $1.2 million of that going to housing, revitalization and other efforts in York City.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., last week sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development to reiterate his support of the $3.15 billion funding level, saying the House proposal is "a mistake."
He said Thursday there seems no rationale behind the "arbitrary" cuts, which could have a negative effect on state and county budgets that would have to pick up the slack.
The money has been used, particularly in York and Lancaster, to reduce blight and revitalize cities, he said. Cuts would limit the resources of cities that are still pulling themselves out of recession and need the money to invest in job creation strategies they know work.
He encouraged the House to engage in debate, welcoming
members to provide examples of the waste or inefficiency they cite.
Waste: Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, has already prepared a few.
Perry said "questionable expenditures" of block grant money include $150,000 for a botanical garden in Georgia, $250,000 for awnings in a Virginia market, and $300,000 for a program that "doesn't build anything" at the Houston Zoo.
Perry said some programs give individuals unfair advantages over others, citing a local program that funds home repairs such as a new roof for people who can't afford it.
"Some people work hard and save to fix their roof, and the other didn't so now he (gets help through the program)," Perry said. "I want the community to benefit instead."
He said the people of York and the rest of the 4th Congressional District want him to vote to reduce spending. The national debt was one of the biggest issues of his election, he said, and he was sent to Washington to "make unpleasant votes."
"We're $17 trillion in debt and if everything has the same funding level as it did in the past, we can't ever get out of our deficit," he said.
Local effort: The block grant funds numerous programs in York City and throughout the county.
In York City, it has funded programs including a homeowners rehab program designed to help people make necessary improvements they can't afford, such as painting a façade or purchasing a new roof or water heater.
Such programs, including a first-time homebuyer assistance class, promote home ownership and keep homeowners in their homes, said James Crosby, deputy director of the Bureau of Housing Services.
Increased home ownership improves the city's tax base, reduces crime, and improves communities because people have pride in what they own, he said.
The block grant also funds small business development, sidewalk repairs in poor neighborhoods, health programs such as HIV and STD testing, and code enforcement efforts, he said, and there's no waste and there's no room for more cuts.
The city's allocation has already been cut by about $600,000 over the past five or six years, forcing his department to reduce its staff from six to three people and cut some programs, he said.
Cutting York City's allocation in half -- again -- "would devastate the program," he said.
"I don't know if it would even be worth it to keep the doors open," Crosby said. "Let's hope that cooler heads prevail in Washington and we're taking a look at the Senate side of things instead of the House's budget."
Mayor Kim Bracey said a funding cut would be devastating and would probably result in closure of York's program.
She said the people who need help with, for example, repairing a roof, are low-income people facing an emergency.
"Emergencies come around and it's either taking care of roof or providing for their family in other ways, with food or medicine," she said. "Some people don't make enough money to have a rainy-day fund."
"I will be making sure Congressman Perry hears from me on this matter."
Toomey: But not everyone in the Senate might support "the Senate side of things."
Steve Kelly, a spokesman for Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said programs including the block grants might need to be reduced "to ensure that we live within our means."
"In 2011, with bipartisan support, Congress passed the Budget Control Act, which President Obama signed into law," Kelly said. "This law established discretionary spending caps to rein in out-of-control Washington spending and put our nation on a sustainable path. Under these levels, we must make some tough choices and better prioritize federal spending."
Perry declined to say what level of funding he'll support, but he thinks there should be negotiation between the House and Senate positions.
"Asking for the same amount that you got last year is acknowledging that you don't think we have a revenue problem," he said.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.