President Barack Obama's budget blueprint to cut community development and housing grants would hit poor Americans especially hard, but Republican plans would do worse, officials said Monday.
In his 2012 spending plan, Obama proposed cutting Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which local councils use for urban development programs, by ê300 million, or 7.5 percent.
Obama also proposed cuts of nearly 10 percent, or ê175 million, to the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help low-income families put a roof over their heads.
Montgomery County in Maryland, one of the 10 richest counties in the United States, used the ê6 million it got last year for CDBGs and ê3 million for HOME programs last year to fund everything from programs to help homeowners facing foreclosure to aid for the homeless and special needs communities.
"If we cut CDBG and HOME, we're going to have to go across the board and cut all our programs," Rick Nelson, director of the Department of Housing for Montgomery County, told AFP.
"We just won't be able to help people at the bottom of the ladder."
But Obama's proposed cuts are small when compared to the multiple billions that Republicans in the House of Representatives proposed to slash from CDBG and other programs that benefit America's poor.
The Republican proposal namely calls for a ê1.6 billion cut to bring funding for public housing below 2010 levels, a ê1.47 billion cut to a rental assistance program for low-income families and a massive two-thirds cut to CDBG funding, according to the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT).
Michael Kane, head of NAHT, called the Republican plans "a St. Valentine's Day massacre of the poor."
"They're slaughtering programs that affect low-income people," Kane said.
"These cuts are very targeted. They're a war on the poor."
Kane said tenant groups held rallies, manned phone banks and staged other protests in 19 US cities against the deep cuts.
In a statement posted on its website, HUD said that while it recognized the importance of CDBG and HOME programs to cities and counties "the sacrifices needed to begin putting our fiscal house in order must be broadly shared."
"The secretary and the president have acknowledged that these are difficult choices," said HUD spokeswoman Melanie Roussell.
"But we were able to cut less than expected in CDBG funds and HOME funds" under Obama's budget, she added.
Hal Rogers, chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, also acknowledged there were "hard decisions" involved in deciding where to cut funding.
The Republican budget proposal contains contains over ê100 billion in cuts compared to Obama's request, according to the panel.
"I know many people will not be happy with everything we've proposed in this package... but I believe these reductions are necessary to show that we are serious about returning our nation to a sustainable financial path," Rogers said.
But Kane said the Republican leadership had been hijacked by conservative newbies in Congress, and slammed the cuts as "frankly stupid and indiscriminate."
"These are crazy cuts. They're not considered. They were forced on the Republican leadership by the Tea Party caucus, most of whom have no experience in government at any level, and it shows because they clearly do not know what they're talking about," he said, referring to arch-conservatives.
"If they want to cut the deficit, there are plenty of ways to do it without targeting the people who are the most vulnerable."