Localizing a national story

What was supposed to be a small column item on cuts to federal funding turned into a front-page lead story about a congressman slashing funding for his home town. The idea to make it a full story came after a chat with a fellow reporter, which goes to show sometimes talking it out for 10 minutes can mean all the difference.

Former mayor votes to slash city funding

Feb. 23, 2010

Despite requests from Mayor Ted Gatsas and city officials to maintain funding for programs for some of the city’s poorest residents, New Hampshire’s congressional delegation has given little indication it intends to do so.

Recently approved House cuts would reduce the city’s $2 million Community Development Block Grant funding by more than half this year. President Obama proposed a 7.5 percent cut to CDBG funds in his recently released 2012 U.S. budget that would result in about $155,000 less for city programs next year.

On Saturday, Rep. Frank Guinta, R-Manchester, voted in favor of more than $100 billion in cuts for fiscal year 2011, including a 63 percent cut in the CDBG program. This will slash more than $2.5 billion in requests for state and local aid, and Manchester could lose up to $1 million in remaining CDBG funding.

During Guinta’s two terms as mayor of Manchester, the city received more than $7.5 million in federal CDBG funds.

“We are the largest municipality in the state of New Hampshire and the need for programs supported through CDBG is substantial,” Gatsas wrote in a letter to the delegation sent Feb. 4. “Given the state of the economy this need is not going to decrease in the very near future. In all probability the demand for services will rise.”

Gatsas wrote that cuts in federal CDBG funds would likely mean cuts in programs such as Weed and Seed, community development and children’s health and nutrition.

“Given the current economic outlook and the tough budgetary times we are facing, general fund dollars are not available to replace the current CDBG funding,” he wrote.

Guinta, who serves on the House Budget Committee, said in a statement on Thursday that cuts should be made at all levels of government. The House has led the way, he added, by cutting Congressional office spending by 5 percent.

“We simply don’t have the money to fund everything we would like. Washington lived way beyond its means for too long; now difficult choices must be made,” said Guinta. “The people said last November they want federal spending rolled back, and cutting it at every level is the only way to make that happen.”

When asked about the CDBG cuts Guinta voted for, spokesperson J. Mark Powell said on Tuesday he would not get more specific than the statement issued last week.

The Senate legislation must now go before the Senate, but neither Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, nor Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, indicated any intention to keep CDBG funding where it is.

“Funding for CDBG jumped by over 27 percent during the President’s first year in office, even as most Americans cut back,” said Ayotte. “All federal programs should be examined to see where common sense cuts can be made. With over $14 trillion in debt, we must make these tough decisions now or face severe economic consequences later.”

Shaheen had no comment.

According to city data, Manchester has used $3.8 million since 2006 for public improvements through the CDBG program. With this money, the city made repairs to Martineau Park, renovated Hallsville School and funded inner-city street improvements. The city has also used nearly $4 million since 2006 for public services. The money goes to about 35 local nonprofits each year and pays for programs including the YMCA after school program, the VNA Child Care Center and the Manchester Community Resource Center workforce development program.

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