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Penn Hills

Most agencies in Penn Hills survive late arrival of federal grant

Dillon Carr
| Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, 3:36 p.m.
Executive Director Joyce Davis inside the food pantry and clothes closet at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Penn Hills.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Executive Director Joyce Davis inside the food pantry and clothes closet at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Penn Hills.

Penn Hills has finally received a $626,000 grant that had been delayed since August because of proposed budget cuts to the federal Community Development Block Grant program.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development funds will be used for things like street paving, sidewalk repairs and funding food pantries, Penn Hills Planning Director Chris Blackwell said.

President Trump's proposed 2018 spending plan recommended cutting $6 billion of HUD's $46 billion budget, including $3 billion to the CDBG program, according to published reports.

While this year's grants would not be impacted, release of the money was delayed while officials discussed the program's future if the cuts are made, Blackwell said.

The delay caused cancellation of a Penn Hills church's summer work program for youths and forced food pantries and other programs to operate on tighter budgets .

Western Penn Hills Community Action, a nonprofit started by First Baptist Church of Penn Hills in 1994, was set to get nearly $20,000 for its program to prepare 14- to 18-year-old students for the workforce. Each year around 20 students are shown how to prepare a resume, go through job readiness training and get paired with a college student for mentorship. At the end of the program, the students receive money for school clothes and supplies, said Sheila L. Johnson, senior manager of the program.

Johnson said absence of the program was “a real detriment to the youth because they were not getting trained.”

“They were probably sitting at home playing video games,” she said. “Unless you have a program like ours, you have human capital going wasted because they don't know what a team resume is, they don't know interview questions … they learn all of that in the program.”

Penn Hills' budget includes nearly $20,000 to fund the program next summer.

Joyce Davis, director for the Lincoln Park Community Center, which houses a food pantry, was relieved to hear the money was now available. She was able to keep the center's food pantry — which fed 300 families during its last offering — functioning this year by using money earmarked for other things at the center.

But the $32,000 in CDBG funds for food and building improvements will alleviate some headaches and enable her to replenish the funds.

“Now that winter is coming, I can help pay for (heating) the building — it's a big building,” Davis said.

Receiving the grant means the municipality will be able replenish about $250,000 it had to take from other projects to pay for street paving and demolition of blighted homes that needed to be done in the summer, Blackwell said.

This year's grant is a 9 percent decrease from last year. Allocations are based on a community's population of low- to moderate-income residents.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C., think tank, Penn Hills' CDBG allocation is estimated to be around $642,000 in 2018, a 2.5 percent increase.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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