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Delay in federal payment leaves Buffalo officials scrambling

WASHINGTON — The federal government's biggest annual grant payment to the City of Buffalo still hasn't arrived two months after it was due, forcing city officials to shift around funds to keep some of its services operating.

Housing rehabilitation, street and sidewalk repairs and programs for youth and senior citizens are among those that will be affected if the city doesn't get its promised $13.68 million in Community Development Block Grant funding sometime soon, Mayor Byron W. Brown said Thursday.

"This puts pressure on providing essential services for some of our most in-need residents," Brown said.

The city — and the community-service organizations that get money from the federal grant program — have not had to cut services yet, just because city officials have been able to shift around funds to keep programs operating, the mayor said.

Nevertheless, the federal government's delay is putting huge financial pressure on the city, and New York's two U.S. senators aren't happy about it.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, both Democrats, Thursday wrote to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to ask that the funding be delivered promptly.

In their letter, the senators noted that the Town of Tonawanda hasn't received its $1.67 million in allotted CDBG funding either.

Municipalities were supposed to get that money on Oct. 1, and most communities in the state did, although Syracuse also has not received the $4.87 million it is owed.

"I’m calling on HUD to deliver these already-allocated funds, which I fought tirelessly to secure in the Senate, to Buffalo and Tonawanda at once," Schumer said.

Gillibrand called on the federal government to provide the funds quickly, too, saying: "I am very concerned that the Trump Administration is delaying these urgently needed grant payments that local organizations in Buffalo and Tonawanda rely on to help make sure families and workers can have access to affordable housing and good local jobs."

Like Buffalo, the Town of Tonawanda has been able to shift funds around to cover the delayed federal payment, said Jim Hartz, the town's director of community development.

But if the funds don't arrive in a month or so, more serious measures -- such as program cuts -- could be necessary, Hartz said. The town uses the majority of its federal grant money to fund its home repair program, with much of the rest going to road repairs and other infrastructure improvements.

Olga Alvarez, a spokeswoman at HUD's regional office in New York, acknowledged that the agency hasn't sent the money to Buffalo and the Town of Tonawanda — although she said she did not know the reason behind the holdup.

"I understand the grantees are worried," Alvarez said.

Buffalo officials also reached out to HUD to try to find out why the money was delayed.

"They indicated there was some type of treasury issue internally at HUD," said Rashika Hall, HUD grants program administrator for the city. "They didn't provide any specific details."

Brown said he's increasingly worried about the delay in federal funding.

"If the money doesn't come soon, it will start to have severe service impacts," the mayor said. "The senators' raising the alarm is critically important, and by highlighting this, hopefully it will expedite these critical funds coming to Buffalo and other municipalities that need them."

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