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Sonoma County housing, homeless and legal services brace for budget cuts under Trump plan


Repairs to decrepit housing, restoration of coho salmon runs, funding for homeless services and legal assistance to low-income tenants are among the Sonoma County programs targeted for significant cuts in the budget blueprint released Thursday by President Donald Trump.

Public access broadcasting and weather forecasting to improve water supply management also were threatened in the spending plan that cuts nearly $59 billion from most federal agency budgets to offset an equal increase for just three: Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and Defense.

Scientists at Novato’s Buck Institute for Research on Aging are eyeing a potential loss of $3 million for studies of chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer, while Santa Rosa and the county are bracing for an equal loss of funding largely for housing services.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, called the president’s proposal “narrow-minded and misguided” and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said it was “craven and reckless.” Both congressmen faulted the proposed big spending on the military and Trump’s border wall at the expense of programs people depend on for “their health, safety and well-being,” Thompson said.

Trump’s budget cuts $4.3 billion from Housing and Urban Development, including elimination of the Community Development Block Grant Program, which channels nearly $3 million a year to the county and Santa Rosa.

The county got $1.65 million in block grant funding last year and spent about $233,000 to improve housing for low-income residents, largely in mobile home parks. It also distributed more than $500,000 in grants to cities for disabled access projects last year and expects to allocate a similar amount in 2017.

A $112,000 grant went to Petaluma’s homeless shelter, the Mary Isaak Center, last year along with $45,000 for Catholic Charities’ homeless services center in Santa Rosa.

Block grants have for years been “an important part of the social safety net,” said John Haig, assistant executive director of the Sonoma County Community Development Commission, which administers block grants.

The county is anticipating another $1.65 million from HUD this year, he said.

Santa Rosa expects repeat funding of $1.3 million this year, said Dave Guhin, director of housing and community services.

The city awards nearly $200,000 to Catholic Charities homeless shelter services and applies to remainder to rehabilitation of existing housing or purchase of land for new housing for low-income families, he said.

Trump’s budget would eliminate funding for nearly 20 small independent agencies, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation.

Legal Aid of Sonoma County gets no funding from that umbrella entity but would suffer from its absence because of “increased competition (among legal aid organizations) for remaining resources,” such as State Bar of California funds, said Ronit Rubinoff, the local agency’s executive director. California already has one of the nation’s largest “justice gaps,” with one legal aid attorney for every 8,000 low-income people eligible for their services, she said.

Legal Aid assists people dealing with elder abuse, child abuse and domestic abuse and helps low-income people fight evictions and other disputes with landlords.

“The priorities (in Trump’s budget) are black and white,” Rubinoff said, calling the spending plan “an out-and-out assault on people of color, women and immigrants.”

KRCB, the county’s public broadcasting station, stands to lose $550,000 this year — about 20 percent of its budget — if the national corporation is defunded, said Nancy Dobbs, the president and CEO.

It would have been a “devastating blow,” she said, but the Rohnert Park-based commercial-free radio and television station was fortified recently by a $72 million windfall from the Federal Communications Commission’s $20 billion auction to clear the airwaves for the burgeoning telecommunications industry.

“I think we can weather the storm,” Dobbs said.

The Sonoma County Water Agency is bracing for cuts to the Pacific Coast Salmon Restoration fund, which contributed $1.5 million last year to a new fish ladder on the Russian River, and the Sea Grant Fellowship Program, which has supported coho salmon recovery efforts for the last 11 years.

The agency, which delivers Russian River water to 600,000 North Bay customers, also is anticipating cuts to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather forecasting research program aimed at improving water supply and flood-protection functions at Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, agency spokesman Brad Sherwood said.

Meals on Wheels, the widely known food delivery program serving needy seniors, was singled out Thursday after President Trump’s budget chief, in a televised news conference, defended proposed cuts to the program, saying it was one of many that is “just not showing any results.”

But Sonoma County’s well-regarded Meals on Wheels program, run by the Council on Aging, does not receive any of the federal funds targeted for cuts, said Marrianne McBride, president and CEO of the Council on Aging.

“At this point we have no indication that there would be cuts to the Meals on Wheels program in the near future, and we’ve received information from Meals on Wheels of America confirming that,” McBride said.

The Buck Institute currently gets $17.3 million — nearly half its annual budget — from the National Institutes of Health, which is destined for an 18 percent cut in the Trump spending plan.

Overall, the Department of Health and Human Services is taking a proposed $12.6 billion budget hit, the largest among the 14 federal agencies losing money in Trump’s plan.

The loss is “devastating,” spokeswoman Kris Rebillot said. “It’s hard enough as it is” to get research grants, she said, noting that key faculty members spend half their time seeking funding for their work.

Local officials noted that parts of the president’s budget face stiff opposition in Congress and the spending debate has just begun.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.