Loss of grants would cut deep into Mass. aid programs

Boston, MA- March 03, 2017: Boston Mayor, Martin "Marty" Walsh addresses the crowd during a Stand With Planned Parenthood rally at the Boston Common in Boston, MA on March 04, 2017. (Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund Massachusetts hosted the rally to oppose federal efforts to "defund" Planned Parenthood health centers.) (Globe staff photo / Craig F. Walker) section: metro reporter:
Craig F. Walker/globe staff
Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh slammed President Trump’s proposed spending plan Thursday, joining advocates across the state who said it would devastate after-school programs, food assistance programs, and home-heating aid for thousands of low-income residents.

“This is not a responsible budget,” the mayor said at a City Hall press conference with community activists and officials. “This is a reckless budget, and it’s a heartless budget.”

Walsh, a Democrat, focused much of his ire on the Republican president’s plan to eliminate the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds Meals on Wheels, as well as popular housing assistance programs.


Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said $150 billion had been spent on block grant programs since the 1970s, and the programs were “just not showing any results.”

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“We can’t do that anymore,” Mulvaney said at a Thursday afternoon press conference in Washington. “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good.”

But Walsh and other local officials across the state called the program a lifeline that helps low-income residents afford food, housing, and other basic needs.

Massachusetts received $91 million under the program in the most recent year, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association. Of that, Boston received $24 million, Walsh said.

The money, Walsh said, allows the city to help first-time home buyers purchase and fix up dilapidated properties. It also funds city efforts to clean up polluted sites, develop vacant lots, and provide after-school programs and job-training classes for young people. And it supports the city’s 20 Main Streets organizations, which are focused on revitalizing neighborhood commercial districts beyond downtown.


Janetha Busby, a cashier at Stop & Shop, said the program helped her pay for the closing costs when she bought a three-decker in Mattapan and then helped her renovate the property last year. If Trump were to cut the program, “nobody would be able to get help,” she said at Walsh’s press conference, still wearing her Stop & Shop apron from work.

In Turners Falls, a small Western Massachusetts town, the nonprofit LifePath uses its block grant to help pay for Meals on Wheels, which delivers 550 meals a day to seniors in 30 mostly rural communities in Franklin and Worcester counties, executive director Roseann Martoccia said.

Greenfield, a town of 17,000 in Western Massachusetts, receives about $800,000 a year in federal block grants that help it rebuild crumbling homes, provide summer jobs for youth, and operate a food pantry that served 2,100 residents last year.

“People are frequently making choices between food, or heat, or rent,” said MJ Adams, Greenfield’s community development adminstrator. “We live in a country of wild abundance. I can’t imagine that we can feel good as a people if we let people go hungry.”

In Chelsea, which received $825,000 from the program, the city has been able to rehabilitate housing, fund English classes for immigrants, and support programs that keep students from dropping out of high school or teach them job and life skills.


If those funds are cut, said John DePriest, director of planning and development, and the city or state can’t make up the difference, the programs would have to be slashed. Families struggling to get by, he said, would lose work opportunities, or the chance to learn English.

Lizzy Guyton, a spokeswoman for Governor Charlie Baker, released a statement noting that the state relies on the federal government for programs affecting everything from education to health care and transportation.

“As the budget process plays out in Congress, the administration urges Massachusetts’ congressional delegation to work toward keeping these critical funding sources intact,” Guyton said.

Walsh said there is no way for cities and towns to compensate for the deep cuts proposed by Trump. One of those cuts, to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, would force 20,000 Boston residents to lose home-heating aid in the frigid winter months, he said.

“Make no mistake: A budget like this will bring pain,” Walsh said. “We cannot replace the revenue here. No city can.”

Walsh said he was glad that Trump proposed an increase in spending on veterans’ services and some addiction treatment programs.

But he said he was focused on working with the state’s all-Democratic congregational delegation to try to stop the budget from passing the Republican-controlled Congress.

The mayor brushed aside a question about what cuts the city might have to make if Trump’s budget were passed into law. “I’m not going to answer that question yet because this fight is long from over,” he said.

Martin Finucane of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Maddie Kilgannon contributed to this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at Evan Allen can be reached at