Money for Promise Neighborhoods Cut Again

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The news from Capitol Hill keeps getting worse for the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative (PNI) – one of President Obama’s signature new youth programs.

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee voted Tuesday to fund the initiative next year at $20 million – far below the $210 million requested by the president and just one-third of the $60 million approved by a House subcommittee earlier in July.

That left supporters of the PNI, which seeks to replicate the famed Harlem Children’s Zone in 20 communities around the country, scrambling to get senators to add more money when the full Appropriations Committee meets on Thursday. But those supporters are competing against a strong deficit-cutting mood in Congress, where nothing is more difficult than adding money for a new program.

“Trying to create funding for any program in this kind of environment is very difficult,” said Patrick Lester, who is leading the effort on behalf of the Alliance for Children and Families and the United Neighborhood Centers.

Particularly troubling for the supporters of PNI is that no member of the House or Senate has stepped up as a champion to push for the funding. “The champion is really the president,” Lester said.

Last year, Congress approved $10 million for planning replications of the Children’s Zone model in 20 cities. (See the list of applicants.) The 2011 funding now being debated would be for implementation and additional planning grants. (A description of the PNI is here.)

The drawn-out congressional budget-writing process leaves supporters with a few more chances to get an increase. The 2011 budget package approved Tuesday by the appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education now goes before the full Appropriations Committee in the Senate. Over in the House,  although a subcommittee voted earlier this month to fund PNI at $60 million, the full House Appropriations Committee has not yet voted.

Tuesday’s Senate vote came after about 300 youth- and social-service organizations sent a letter to subcommittee members in support of fully funding PNI. The challenge for them is to find a member of on the Senate committee to speak in favor of more funding.

Supporters are building their case on the idea that funding PNI does not necessarily have to add to the deficit. Because PNI is a collaboration of services, many of them already existing in some form, supporters suggest taking small amounts of money from various funding streams and giving them to PNI.

“If you shuffle some money around from existing programs to Promise, that’s not taking money from one completely different program and giving it to another,” said Lester, who did not want to publicly name any programs from which money should be taken.

(The effectiveness of the Children’s Zone has been the subject of a public debate this week between its founder and two researchers from the Brookings Institution.)

Other Programs

The subcommittee’s budget market-up affected several other programs that serve youth. It provides:

* An increase of $153.5 million for state grants for job training and employment services.

* $3.1 billion for child care for the low-income workers, which is $1 billion more than in 2010.

* $8.2 billion for Head Start, a nearly $1 billion increase from last year and from Obama’s 2011 budget request.

* More funding for Title I education grants to the states, many of which are facing severe budget shortfalls. It includes $14.9 billion for Title I grants to local education agencies that serve low-income youth, which is $450 million above both last year’s funding and Obama’s 2011 budget request.

* No funding increase for most college student aid programs, including Pell grants. The maximum Pell award would remain at $5,550.

* More funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service.  The Senate committee added $215.9 million, more than the House but about $50 million less that the president had requested. The increase would allow the number of AmeriCorps members to rise from 87,000 to about 97,000. CNCS funding is a little under $1.4 billion for fiscal 2010.

* Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation programs, both created under last year’s Recovery Act, would be funded at $675 million and $250 million, respectively. But the subcommittee noted that these programs were not funded in the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill last year.