Ben Carson talks responsibility as senators question cuts

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Housing Secretary Ben Carson defended the sharp budget cuts facing his agency even as he promised senators Wednesday that he would strive to help the most vulnerable Americans.

Appearing before Congress or the first time since joining President Donald Trump‘s Cabinet, Carson said his agency was committed to “doing more with less.”

Trump’s 2018 budget proposal calls for cutting $7 billion from the $48 billion budget for the Housing and Urban Development Department. That includes gutting the popular $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds a variety of local projects across the country.

The program has done wonderful things, Carson said, “but there has been mission creep to the point where we have those dollars being used for spay and neuter clinics and flowers along highways.” He said at a time of tight budgets, “we have to be able to concentrate on what our primary goals are.”

But senators from both parties questioned the cuts. Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware noted that HUD’s own website touts that the CDBG program has created thousands of jobs, supported tens of thousands of single-family home rehabilitation projects and helped over 200,000 seniors.

“I could spend the rest of the afternoon giving you concrete and specific examples of how CDBG been used in my home county, home state and across this country,” Coons said.

The chair of the panel, GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, suggested Congress may not agree to the cuts. She told Carson the budget proposal is “just a first draft,” with lawmakers ultimately having the final say on spending plans.

The administration’s plan also would cut about $2 billion from the department’s rental assistance programs, to $35.2 billion. One proposal would increase the tenant contribution toward rent from 30 percent of adjusted income to up to 35 percent of gross income, a higher category of income.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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