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Congress Considers Providing More Local Support to Fight Poverty

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Thursday, May 19, 2022   

May is Community Action Month, and local agencies helping low-income families hope Congress signs off on a plan to bolster and modernize their federal support.

Community Action Agencies help carry out services such as job training and energy assistance. The House recently approved a ten-year reauthorization of the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program. Among the changes is a proposed permanent increase in income eligibility for those served by local programs.

Annie Shapiro, advocacy director for the Minnesota Community Action Partnership, said it is especially timely for families struggling with inflation and making just enough money to lose out on aid.

"Maybe they add an extra shift at work, and they start making more," Shapiro explained. "But in reality, their actual spending power is either not changed because they lost a lot of those benefits or is even less than what it was before."

The reauthorization also would increase annual funding to $1 billion. Shapiro pointed out it would give agencies more flexibility to tackle areas such as housing aid, in light of skyrocketing costs for rent. While the plan has bipartisan support, some House Republicans questioned the idea of expanding the scope of the program without knowing its effectiveness on a broader level.

Shapiro countered giving individual agencies a blanket assessment is impractical, because they each respond differently to the needs in their service area.

"For examples from Minnesota, some of our agencies use their CSBG funds to help fund their food shelves," Shapiro noted. "Food shelves get some funding, but are often not funded by other sources. "

Emily Bombich, director of planning for the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, said part of their funding has gone to efforts to provide shoes and boots to community members in need. She argued an overwhelming response for the items leads them to believe they could help others with additional support from Congress.

"If we were able to give them this gift where they don't have to buy their kids shoes, then maybe they can stretch their money farther," Bombich suggested.

Supporters said the grant program has not seen a reauthorization like this in nearly two decades, and are hoping bipartisan support will carry over into the Senate.

Disclosure: Minnesota Community Action Association Resource Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Early Childhood Education, Health Issues, Housing/Homelessness, and Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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