Alabama agency director warns against certain cuts in President Trump’s proposed budget

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President Donald Trump's budget proposal zeroes out two programs that benefit Alabama in big ways -- Community Development Block Grants and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

The money from those programs flows through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA). The agency's director, Jim Byard Jr., said, "The federal dollars come to the state and ADECA, and then they end up in the local communities."

Byard has concerns if the president gets his way with his budget plans. We caught up with him at the 30-year anniversary of the Huntsville Intermodal Center, a transportation hub that provides jobs and facilitates industry.

He said funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) made it happen, "It's a tremendous return on investment for the taxpayers of Alabama, and that's, I guess, the message that I would tell folks is, these programs, there's a return on investment."

The money from these programs often help develop areas, making them more attractive to potential businesses. Byard added, "I would say they're the non-sexy dollars, because there's no flashing lights. Most of this is infrastructure that you don't see, but it's critical infrastructure."

The Appalachian Regional Commission got $146 million from the federal government last year. Byard said Alabama saw around $5-million of that. He said the state also dealt with around $25 million in Community Development Block Grants, a $3 billion federal program.

But when they come to the community, he pointed out, "They're not all big grants. We have a $28,000 grant in Jackson County right now for Food Hub, which basically teaches young folks how to garden, and then they provide those vegetables to their schools and the businesses that buy them."

The folks in charge of those programs see big impacts, even with small costs. Byard said, "It's not always a million dollars. Sometimes it's $25-30-thousand that make a project and that impacts local communities."

Still, Byard has confidence those federal dollars will rally support in Congress, "Our members know it. They'll figure it out.

"Once the budget is officially presented to Congress," he said, "there will be some give and take, but right now it's zeroed out. So we're just educating folks to let them know what dollars are zeroed out and what they're being spent on."

The day we spoke to Byard, he told us he talked with U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby that morning and that the Senator supported the programs.

We reached out to Senator Shelby (R-AL) and U.S. Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) about the funding. Senator Shelby's office never responded.

Senator Strange's office sent back a quote, "One of the great things about our government is that no one person gets to decide how money is spent. I look forward to working with the White House and my colleagues on the appropriate committees in Congress on a budget that cuts waste, fraud and abuse while prioritizing the many pressing needs of our nation and state."

Byard assesses, "It's a process. It is concerning."

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