This column contains a correction.
During his first joint address to Congress, President Donald Trump proclaimed, “We are one people, with one destiny. We all bleed the same blood. We all salute the same great American flag. And we all are made by the same God.” Yet since taking office, his vicious divide-and-conquer attack on foreign-born Americans and immigrant-welcoming communities has belied this declaration.
Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to withhold all Department of Justice grants to so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, including funding to hire police officers with the help of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. This follows an executive order, or EO, President Trump signed in January that threatens to withhold a wider swath of federal funding from these communities, as well as multiple bills advanced in recent years by Senate Republicans that target various grant programs including Community Development Block Grants, or CDBGs. The administration’s authority to withhold federal funds raises serious legal questions, and the effort comes as local police departments across the nation voice support for these besieged municipalities and as additional jurisdictions explore ways to adopt welcoming policies.
The importance of sanctuary jurisdictions
Although there is no official definition of a “sanctuary jurisdiction,” the term generally refers to cities, counties, or states that in some way limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement efforts. The impact of stripping away vital federal funding would extend far beyond the more than 600 counties and cities that have taken steps to protect their unauthorized residents and larger communities. Contrary to what President Trump and some lawmakers would have people believe, sanctuary counties are safer than other counties, and their economies tend to be stronger, with lower rates of poverty and unemployment and higher median household incomes.
The 43-year-old CDBG program, which is one of the biggest sources of local funding under threat by the Trump administration and several state legislatures, provides more than $3 billion annually to both states and local governments, at 30 percent and 70 percent, respectively. This money helps keep seniors, veterans, and individuals and families who are struggling to make ends meet housed and healthy. While their wide-ranging impacts are often overlooked, CDBG investments significantly improve local living conditions by: fixing aging housing and water and waste infrastructure; removing toxic contaminants such as lead; revitalizing blighted neighborhoods; and providing job development opportunities, to name a few. Even if President Trump’s threat to completely eliminate CDBGs does not come to pass, this critical local funding could still be imperiled by legislative attempts to penalize sanctuary jurisdictions for doing what is best for their local communities’ safety and economic security.
Here is what eliminating CDBG funding would mean for three sanctuary cities.
The loss of more than $38 million in annual CDBG funding would cut off roughly 647,000 of Philadelphia’s residents from vital housing, legal, and employment services that allow them to secure affordable housing; ensure that their homes and neighborhoods are safe from toxic conditions; and sharpen their skills to secure better, higher-paying jobs. This means the elimination of crucial programs such as YouthBuild Philly. For more than 20 years, YouthBuild Philly has helped disconnected youth complete their high school education and gain valuable job skills to secure and build a better future. One-fourth of Philadelphia’s CDBG funding goes to its Basic Systems Repair Program, which, among many things, helps prevent vulnerable homeowners—including seniors on fixed incomes—from freezing to death during the winter because they cannot afford to fix their broken heaters. By summer of this year, around $5.1 million will have gone to citywide housing counseling and assistance efforts, which are expected to help keep more than 11,000 families from being foreclosed on and becoming homeless.
Without CDBG funding, at least 168,000 Philadelphians would be unable to fix their aging water and waste systems; maintain a healthy lifestyle through access to clean green parks and senior community centers; or adequately provide for their families, due to the loss of essential child care supports. Recent socio-economic revitalization gains made by richly diverse yet historically disadvantaged neighborhoods, such as the Olney community, would also come to a screeching halt or even unravel.
Close to 300,000 Chicagoans—including seniors, youth, domestic violence survivors, and people with disabilities and chronic illnesses—rely on CDBG funding for their safety and wellness.* An annual loss of more than $72 million in CDBG funding would eliminate lifesaving programs and services that help struggling Chicagoans and their families escape homelessness; repair and remain in their homes; live independently and with dignity; and receive quality care services that improve health, address food insecurity, and increase overall safety. Lifeline programs that solely rely on CDBG funding to help the city’s most marginalized residents include Intensive Case Advocacy for Seniors, or ICAS, a community-based model that helps protect Chicago’s elderly residents from neglect, and the Employment Preparation and Placement Program, which provides job readiness training to underemployed and out-of-work Chicagoans. It also places them in temporary employment and provides supports for permanent placement.
The city of Cincinnati, which officially declared its sanctuary status just days after President Trump’s EO was announced, would lose roughly $11 million each year in funding for more than 30 health, housing, youth, and child care programs that help approximately 420,000 Cincinnatians and their families achieve economic stability and improve the quality of their lives.
For example, the CDBG-funded Hand Up Initiative works with more than 500 Cincinnatians annually to allow them to transition into stable, gainful jobs and retain employment; the program does this by helping reduce the costs of key familial supports, such as transportation and child care. And with 90 percent of Cincinnati’s housing at risk of lead-based hazards, CDBG funds have long been essential to the city’s efforts to safeguard children and families from lead poisoning. Since 2015, CDBG funding has helped close to 3,000 low-income households, the majority of which are headed by seniors and Cincinnatians with disabilities, make emergency housing repairs. And more than $2 million has gone to economic stabilization and restoration efforts in hard-hit neighborhoods.
Immigrant-inclusive initiatives help create secure, welcoming communities that foster local reinvestment and innovation. Particularly in rural and Rust Belt communities, immigrant entrepreneurship has helped clean up and rebuild areas damaged by natural disasters and spur the revitalization of both neighborhoods and Main Street economies that many small-town residents depend on for their local food, retail, services, and jobs.
Rather than support and enhance these successful, locally led efforts, President Trump and several elected officials have chosen to divide and demonize sanctuary jurisdictions for doing the very thing they are expected to do: provide and protect opportunities that improve the lives of their residents; help their communities thrive; and ensure that everyone has a fair chance to get ahead—whether generations deep or newly arrived.
These threats to sanctuary jurisdictions affect more than just dollars and cents: They are assaults on the very social fabric of the nation. They would not only gut the economic foundation of these communities, but they would also decimate the basic living standards of struggling Americans who rely on their local government services to make ends meet.
Rejane Frederick is an Associate Director for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress.
* Correction, April 25, 2017: This column has been updated to reflect that close to 300,000 Chicagoans rely on CDBG funding.