Biden’s budget calls for increases in key state and local programs

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The president's plan would boost federal spending for housing, law enforcement and water and wastewater projects.

The roughly $5.8 trillion budget proposal President Biden put forward Monday would boost spending on a range of federal initiatives that states and localities depend on, including programs to expand affordable housing that is in short supply, prevent homelessness during a time when it is soaring and hire more police officers as crime rates rise across the country.

Biden said in his message to Congress that his spending plan, “details the next steps forward on our journey to execute a new economic vision, reduce costs for families, reduce the deficit, and build a better America.” Mirroring his administration’s other efforts to address historic economic and racial inequities, Biden called for additional community development funds that would target underserved areas.

The proposed budget, which covers the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, drew praise from municipalities, who saw funding aimed at local governments as evidence that the administration is pleased with how they are using pandemic aid from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“There were increases in almost every area for cities and towns,” said Michael Wallace, the National League of Cities’ program director for community and economic development.

The budget requests that presidents send to Congress are often seen more as statements of their administrations’ priorities than as a blueprint for actual spending legislation, which it is up to congressional appropriators to write. Wallace, though, noted that many of Biden’s proposals reflected those made by lawmakers.

The proposals to increase the flow of federal funds to states and localities comes as they are seeing an influx of ARPA cash and as Republicans have increasingly scrutinized the need for that aid.

The White House budget proposal, particularly its size, drew opposition from Republicans on the Senate budget committee. The plan includes about $1.6 trillion in appropriated discretionary spending, with the rest of the funding going to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other “mandatory” programs.

In a press release, Republicans strongly disputed the administration’s claim that the proposal would reduce the nation’s deficits by $1 trillion over a decade, characterizing it instead as “reckless tax and spend legislation.” Republicans also objected to Biden proposing a greater increase in non-defense spending than for defense, a 5% hike compared to 4%.

“After his budget request last year was roundly rejected in Congress, the President has again proposed a fiscal blueprint that overspends on wasteful domestic programs and fails to adequately provide for our nation’s defense," said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic chairman of the budget committee, saw no problem with increasing funding for social programs more than for defense. “At a time when we are already spending more on the military than the next 11 countries combined, no we do not need a massive increase in the defense budget,” he said in a statement.

The release of the White House plan comes less than two weeks after the president signed a months-late $1.5 trillion appropriations bill into law, setting spending levels for the current 2022 fiscal year.

Housing funding

One of the notable parts of Biden’s plan is what Wallace called a “huge” increase in affordable housing funding, as another rise in rents in larger metro areas in February marked the seventh consecutive month of double-digit increases. 

Biden proposed creating a mandatory $35 billion housing supply fund to provide state and local grants to help increase the amount of affordable housing. Compared to federal housing tax credits, the grants, Wallace said, would allow cities to be less dependent on where housing developers want to build homes. 

The new program would be in addition to a $450 million increase, to $1.9 billion, for HOME Investment Partnerships funding for states and localities, which supports affordable housing, a Housing and Urban Development spokesman said.

The proposal also asked for $3.5 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants. That includes $3.2 billion in Continuum of Care Program funding for nonprofits, states and local governments to quickly rehouse the homeless. That would be an increase over the $2.8 billion available for that program currently. At least $52 million of the funding would go toward housing people fleeing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking or human trafficking. 

Biden also proposed $290 million in Emergency Solutions Grants to help communities providing services including emergency shelters and street outreach, an amount in line with this year’s appropriations. Of that sum, $82 million would go to help homeless youth.

In addition, the proposal calls for a $500 million increase in Community Development Block Grants funding, to $3.8 billion.

That includes $195 million for up to 100 state and local grants to identify and remove barriers “to revitalization faced by underserved communities in deteriorating or deteriorated neighborhoods with the greatest need.” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge would establish a formula identifying the neighborhoods eligible for the money, taking into consideration factors like poverty levels, according to budget documents.

“Providing extra funds for the most poverty-stricken communities makes a lot of sense,” Wallace said.

In addition, the budget proposal would create grants for states and localities to examine efforts to remove barriers to building affordable housing, which Wallace said could be a reference to Biden’s proposal in the American Jobs Plan to encourage cities to do away with single-family zoning. The grants could help municipalities left short staffed by the pandemic to examine zoning issues, Wallace said.

Fudge said in a statement that: “This Budget will help us meet our mission to provide security and stability for those who live on the outskirts of hope, advance opportunity and equity on behalf of marginalized communities, and meet the existential threats posed by natural disasters and climate change.” 

Law enforcement funding

As part of the proposal, Biden also called for dealing with rising crime rates around the county with a slate of spending measures, including more funding to expand the ranks of local police officers. Biden’s proposal would allocate $537 million to Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, hiring grants.

“The answer is not to defund our police departments, it’s to fund them to give them all the tools they need,” Biden said at a press conference. “The budget puts more police on the street for community policing so they can get to know the communities they’re policing.”

The funding for police, Wallace said, would help cities that are struggling to hire officers, despite the ARPA money some are using to give pay increases and hazard pay. The funding, Wallace said, could allow police departments to hire nontraditional officers like mental health counselors as cities examine different approaches to responding to calls for help.

Meanwhile, Biden’s proposal would decrease funding for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, which states and localities tap for a range of purposes, including courts, corrections and drug treatment. The plan proposed giving out $533.5 million in grants, down from $674.5 million in the current budget. 

Biden, though, also called for the creation of a $300 million Accelerating Justice System Reform initiative, which provides funding for states and local governments to address the root causes of crime, including gun and other violent crimes.

And the budget proposes to fund measures that help communities "find evidence-based approaches to reduce crime and improve public safety," including $250 million for what's dubbed the Community Violence Intervention Initiative, a program meant to help plan localized intervention programs to reduce violence.

Water funding

EPA Administrator Michael Regan noted that almost half of the nearly $12 billion in funding Biden wants to give the agency would go to states and localities, “reaffirming EPA’s commitment to work in concert with our partners and local communities to tackle the climate crisis and ensure that no American family has to worry about the air they breathe, the water they drink, or the environmental safety of their homes and workplaces.”

Among the proposals would be $940 million contained in the bipartisan infrastructure act for drinking water and wastewater projects across the country. Biden also proposed a $160 million increase in grants to reduce lead in drinking water and a $240 million increase in programs focused on preventing sewer overflows and promoting stormwater reuse.

Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.

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