Federal Budget for HUD Leaves Out Tacoma’s Strategic Planning Community TEC Funding

“Funding for the continuation of the Tacoma Empowerment Consortium’s economic and community development initiatives in the Tacoma area are up in the air as the federal budget process in Washington, D.C. frenetically hastens toward its conclusion.As elements of the Fiscal Year 2000 Budget begin to fall into place, the funding for Strategic Planning Communities, as outlined by Vice President Al Gore during Round II funding for federal Empowerment Zones, may be lost. A budget summary from the offices of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released yesterday, claimed success for HUD programs while not mentioning SPC funding.Both President Clinton and HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo acclaimed the $26 billion 2000 HUD budget signed into law by the president yesterday. Neither mentioned SPC funding.“This legislation is important and not just for what it will achieve but for how it was achieved,” Clinton said. “It was achieved because members of Congress chose to put aside partisanship and work with us in good faith, on matters crucial to the future of our nation.”“This is the best HUD budget of the Clinton Administration,” Cuomo said. “The budget is a direct result of President Clinton’s strong and effective advocacy of HUD programs, his willingness to veto any budget that failed to provide adequate funding, and his work with Congress.”Cuomo called the budget “a vote of confidence in the performance of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.” The 2000 budget provides $1.5 billion more for HUD programs over last year’s funding.The Empowerment Zone program was to have provided $100 million to spur economic and community development, as well as resident self-sufficiency in each of 15 urban areas over a ten-year period starting this year.First year funding was at $3 million for each of the Empowerment Zones. In the 2000 budget each of the 15 will be receiving less than $4 million, only about 37 percent of the targeted annual amount for the program.Strategic Planning Communities were announced early this year by the vice president for 15 more runners-up in the application process. They were to receive a one-time payment of $3 million each in the 2000 budget. More than 100 communities applied for Empowerment Zone funding, and one HUD source had said that Tacoma’s application had been rated 16th during the evaluation process.During attempts to find out whether SPC funding was, in fact, dead, yesterday, it was unclear whether the vice president’s SPC announced initiative had been a priority, or likelihood, for anyone lately on the national level.Ali Weise, a spokesperson from Representative Adam Smith’s Washington, D.C. office said Smith had voiced his support, but is not on the Appropriations Committee. She said Smith will work toward funding the program in next year’s budget, and said that she had been informed TEC would be laying off some personnel due to the lack of funding. When informed that TEC had already cut staff after not being chosen to receive Empowerment Zone funding this past January, she replied that, “in tight budget times there is only so much money to go around.”Weise also noted that the 15 designated Round II federal Empowerment Zones, received far less than full funding.The spokesperson for Norm Dicks’ office, Kurt Beckett, admitted that the possibility for SPC funding in the budget signed yesterday was all but nil, but said that Dicks would be working with the TEC to explore options to continue the agency’s programs.“The main goal in Norm’s mind is to find a way to keep the momentum that TEC’s created going,” Beckett said. “This was one of these priorities that has political aspects to it. It’s close to the end of the president’s term and the [Republican] majority is not receptive to it. The president signed the bill… and, well, you can’t win ‘em all.”Beckett said the TEC still had the economic development tools provided by the area’s federal Enterprise Community designation, as well as state designations, such as the International Services Delivery Zone.“All the tax breaks are still in place for the EC,” Beckett said. “Clearly, if they [federal agencies] know you’re an SPC, it’s not your fault the appropriation didn’t come through, there’s still recognition, you’re prioritized through federal grant programs.”Beckett said there are other funding sources available for the TEC to apply to, and Dicks would assist in attracting federal, state or private money to continue TEC programs.“It’s gonna be tough,” Beckett said. “The TEC has been doing a good job – that’s reflected in the [Round II Empowerment Zone] application, the effort that went in to making the application, and the quality of the board. We will work to not lose the effort already put forward. Our goals don’t change.“The support is there,” Beckett said. “We’ll stitch it together. We’ve done it before. We’ll get through.”A call to Vice President Gore’s office resulted in no comment on the elimination of funding for the program Gore had announced earlier this year. The vice president’s spokesperson referred inquiries on a lack of SPC funding to HUD.A call to HUD’s Seattle office for comment on the lack of funding turned up no detailed news on the budget, but one to HUD’s Washington, D.C. offices resulted in somewhat hopeful, if confused, news. Debbie Pickford, a spokesperson in HUD’s public affairs division, originally claimed that SPCs received $3 million each in the Fiscal Year 1999 Budget, but when asked why Tacoma had not received funding, checked with another staff member and corrected herself.“We have not received it yet,” Pickford said. “We’re still trying to get it, we’re still negotiating for it. We’ll know in one week.””