United States Government Accountability Office Washington, DC 20548 September 14, 2012 The Honorable Richard Durbin Chairman The Honorable Jerry Moran Ranking Member Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Committee on Appropriations United States Senate The Honorable Jo Ann Emerson Chairwoman The Honorable José E. Serrano Ranking Member Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Committee on Appropriations House of Representatives The Honorable Emanuel Cleaver, II Chairman Congressional Black Caucus House of Representatives Subject: The Distribution of Federal Economic Development Grants to Communities with High Rates of Poverty and Unemployment For decades the nation has faced the challenge of revitalizing its most economically distressed communities, which suffer from high levels of poverty and joblessness. To help poor communities, Congress appropriated $6.2 billion in fiscal year 2010 for community and economic development programs, largely in the form of grants, loan guarantees, and direct loans. In a 2011 report, we identified 80 programs that make funding available to communities to enhance local economic activity. 1 These activities include, but are not limited to, planning and developing strategies for job creation and retention, developing new markets for existing products, building infrastructure to attract industry to undeveloped areas, rehabilitating dilapidated housing, and establishing business incubators to provide facilities for new businesses’ operations, among others. But the extent to which federal economic development grant support is aligned with local economic conditions is less clear. 1 GAO, Economic Development Programs: Efficiency and Effectiveness of Fragmented Economic Development Programs Are Unclear, GAO-11-477R (Washington, D.C.: May 19, 2011). See enclosure IV for a list of related GAO reports. GAO-12-938R To assist you in your fiscal year 2013 budget deliberations you asked us to provide data that show the extent to which federal economic development grant funding is awarded to the poorest communities. In consultation with your offices, we agreed to provide data that show the distribution of community and economic development grant funds to cities and rural counties with high rates of poverty and unemployment. This letter transmits information we provided to your staff on May 5, July 23, and July 27, 2012. (See enclosure I for the presentation slides.) Specifically, these slides describe the distribution of federal community and economic development grant funding for (1) cities with high rates of poverty and unemployment and how that compares with the distribution of economic development funding to cities in general and (2) nonmetropolitan counties with high rates of poverty and unemployment and how that compares to the distribution to counties in general. The federal government supports community and economic development through grants, loans, and tax expenditures. In addition to the $6.2 billion in grants and loans, the federal government invested an even larger amount—$8.7 billion—in community and economic development through tax expenditures in fiscal year 2010. 2 However, given your primary interest in the distribution of federal grant funds to economically distressed communities, we focused our work specifically on a selection of high dollar value community and economic development grant programs that made funding available to cities and nonmetropolitan counties. Four agencies administered these programs— the Departments of Commerce (Commerce), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Agriculture (USDA), and the Small Business Administration (SBA). (See enclosure II for a list of the selected economic development grant programs.) Our analysis included grant programs that use both competitive and formula award procedures to channel funds to communities with high rates of poverty or to programs that serve low and moderate income households. For example, USDA’s Rural Business Opportunity grants program awards funds through a competitive process that gives priority to projects that will provide services to economically distressed communities. By contrast, HUD allocates Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) funds to communities by using a formula which employs several variables--poverty, population, pre- 1940 housing, slow population growth and overcrowding. 3 Although poverty is one factor in targeting funds to economically distressed communities, the CDBG program, which has the most impact on our findings, is designed to target multiple dimensions of community need. To determine the distribution of federal economic development grant funding for cities and rural counties with various rates of poverty and unemployment, we combined information from a number of sources including our previous work on community and economic 2 Tax expenditures are preferential provisions in the tax code, such as exemptions and exclusions from taxation, deductions, credits, deferral of tax liability, and preferential tax rates that result in forgone revenue for the federal government. The revenue that the government forgoes is viewed by many analysts as spending channeled through the tax system. See GAO, Limited Information on the Use and Effectiveness of Tax Expenditures Could Be Mitigated through Congressional Attention. GAO-12-262 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 29, 2012). 3 Our analyses include $2.8 billion in CDBG/Entitlement Communities grants and $1.2 billion in CDBG/States Program grants. Recipients of both programs may undertake a wide range of activities including economic development, and improvements to community services and facilities. 2 GAO-12-938R development programs, 4 agency-reported fiscal year 2010 obligation data, and economic indicator data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census’ (Census) American Community Survey. Given your interest in both urban and rural communities, we examined approximately 465 cities with populations exceeding 65,000 and 2,048 nonmetro counties. 5 To determine the amount of grant funding awarded to cities, we selected high-dollar grant programs that made federal economic development grant funds available to cities, totaling $2.3 billion in fiscal year 2010 obligations. To determine the amount of grant funding awarded to nonmetro counties, we selected grant programs that made funding available to rural locations, which totaled roughly $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2010 economic development grant obligations. 6 To identify grant recipients in cities and related obligation amounts, we used fiscal year 2010 data from USAspending.gov (accessed Aug. 22, 2012), a publicly searchable database on government spending. To identify obligation amounts and grant recipients in nonmetro counties, we used the USDA Economic Research Service’s Federal Funds data set. We assessed the reliability of these data by (1) performing electronic testing of required data elements, (2) reviewing existing information about the data and the system that produced them, and (3) interviewing agency officials knowledgeable about the data. We determined the data were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of this report. We interviewed agency officials from Commerce, HUD, SBA, and USDA about their data reliability procedures and obtained obligation data to verify the obligation totals. To approximate economic need in a given city or nonmetro county, we used poverty rates and unemployment rates from Census’ 2010 American Community Survey and compared the distribution of economic development grant funding for cities and nonmetro counties with different rates of poverty and unemployment. Finally, to focus our analysis on populations experiencing economic hardships, we examined grant obligations relative to the number of persons in poverty and to unemployed persons in the geographic areas in our analyses. While there are other valid ways to measure the distribution of grant obligations, such as comparing obligations across geographies on a per capita basis, we chose to compare funding amounts relative to poverty populations and unemployed populations because of your interest in how communities with high rates of poverty and unemployment fare with respect to federal 4 GAO-11-477R and GAO, Economic Development: Multiple Federal Programs Fund Similar Economic Development Activities, GAO/RCED/GGD-00-220 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 29, 2000). 5 The $2.3 billion amount represents economic development grant obligations for cities with populations over 65,000 and with both poverty and unemployment data available in the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey 2010 1-year estimates. The $1.5 billion amount represents economic development grant obligations for nonmetro counties with poverty and unemployment data available in the American Community Survey 5-year estimates. 6 Nonmetro counties are all areas outside metro counties. In this analysis, we use “rural" and "nonmetro" interchangeably to refer to people and places outside of metro areas. Metro counties, as defined by the Office of Management and Budget, include central counties containing one or more urbanized areas (i.e., areas with an urban center with a population of 50,000 or more); outlying counties are included if economically tied to the core counties as measured by work commuting. 3 GAO-12-938R funding for community and economic development. In addition, many of the grant programs we examined are designed to aid populations in need. For this reason we compare funding across jurisdictions not on a per capita basis but on specific targeted populations with the greatest need to show the relationship of the federal grant funding to such populations. Although we singled out these populations for this analysis, it is important to note that the benefits of economic development grant funding may accrue to the wider population. We conducted our work from August 2011 to September 2012 in accordance with all sections of GAO’s Quality Assurance Framework that are relevant to our objectives. The framework requires that we plan and perform the engagement to obtain sufficient and appropriate evidence to meet our stated objectives and to discuss any limitations in our work. We believe that the information and data obtained, and the analysis conducted, provide a reasonable basis for any findings and conclusions in this product. Summary The distribution of grant funding per person in poverty in cities was not consistently aligned with overall poverty rates. Most cities, with the exception of those cities with the highest poverty rates, received roughly the same amount of economic development funding per person living in poverty. Further, when we examined how grant funds are distributed to cities based on their unemployment rates, we also found that some cities with higher unemployment rates received less funding per unemployed person than other cities with lower unemployment rates. However, we did find that a small number of cities (17 out of a total of 465 cities) with the highest unemployment rates received funding that was roughly 40 percent higher than the average for unemployed populations in all cities. Similarly, the distribution of grant funding per person in poverty to nonmetro counties was not consistently aligned with overall poverty rates. Nonmetro counties with the lowest poverty rates received more grant funding per person in poverty than counties with higher poverty rates. Further, when we examined how grant funds were aligned with unemployment rates in nonmetro counties, we found that counties with relatively low unemployment rates (under 5 percent) received more funding per unemployed person than counties with higher unemployment rates. Only those nonmetro counties with the highest unemployment rates (over 20 percent) received higher funding per unemployed person. When we compared the distribution of economic development funds awarded to nonmetro counties with funding awarded to metro counties, we found that while metro counties received more grant funds in total, nonmetro counties received a higher portion of grant funding relative to the percentage of their population in poverty. Specifically, 20 percent of the poverty population in this study lived in nonmetro counties, yet those counties received 29 percent of the total economic development grant funds. Thus, members of the poverty population in nonmetro counties received more grant funding per capita than their counterparts in metro counties. 4 GAO-12-938R Finally, we identified a number of issues related to the characteristics of grant programs and the availability of data that limit what we can say about the geographic distribution and beneficiaries of the grant awards. First, the geographic information for the grant programs we reviewed in USAspending.gov (accessed Aug. 22, 2012) corresponds to the address of the primary grant recipient, which in some cases is not necessarily the location where the services funded by the grant are delivered. For example, Commerce provides grants to economic development organizations that may serve multiple cities. Therefore, the geographic information might understate the true reach of the federal funds. But in some cases, such as with the CDBG/Entitlement Communities program, the address of the primary recipient is also where the grant funds are spent on economic development activities because the funds are specifically awarded to support economic activities in that community. In addition, the data we analyzed do not allow us to identify who benefits from the economic activity supported by the grant. For example, we cannot tell who might have received a job from a newly established business that received an economic development grant designed to incubate new businesses in economically distressed communities. Finally, because this analysis did not examine the outcomes of these federal investments we are limited in what we can say about whether and how these grant programs improved local economic conditions. Agency Comments and Our Evaluation We provided a draft of this correspondence to Commerce, HUD, USDA and SBA for review and comment. Commerce and HUD provided written comments, which are presented in enclosure III and IV, respectively. While both agencies generally agreed with our findings, Commerce provided additional information on some of the data we used, and HUD requested that we provide additional clarification on our methodology and results for analyzing the distribution of economic development grant funds to communities. USDA and SBA provided technical comments, which we have incorporated where appropriate. Commerce noted that the fiscal year obligation amounts which we included in the draft’s enclosure II differed from the actual fiscal year 2010 obligation amounts that Commerce has for some programs. We agree that the numbers we had included in enclosure II may differ from Commerce’s actual 2010 obligation amounts. This difference is due to the fact that we obtained obligation data as of August 2011. While these were the most recent data that provide federal grant obligations by county, agencies can later adjust the obligation amounts. Although many of the differences are generally quite small, we have removed the unadjusted award data from the table in enclosure II to prevent confusion with data that have been more recently adjusted. 7 HUD commented that we should provide more information on the method of allocation for each program so that readers understand variables that influence the allocation of funds to economically distressed communities. Although we provide information about the methods programs used to allocate funds to economically distressed communities, we agree that additional information, particularly in regards to the CDBG program which has a major 7 Appropriation data for these programs, which gives an indication of relative size of each program, is provided in GAO-11-477R, 43-50. 5 GAO-12-938R impact on our analysis, could be beneficial. Accordingly, we have provided additional detail about the CDBG program to clarify that poverty is one of several variables used to target CDBG funds to economically distressed communities. HUD also noted that, because our analysis focused on specific populations within communities rather than on the entire community population, it was misleading to conclude that the distribution of grant funding to communities was not consistently aligned with poverty and unemployment rates. We agree and have clarified our language and added more detailed information to make it clearer that, given congressional interest in the distribution of federal funds to populations experiencing the greatest need, our findings reflect a per capita comparison based on the populations in poverty and the unemployed as opposed to an overall per capita basis. *************************************************** We are sending copies of this report to the appropriate congressional committees and the Secretaries of Commerce, HUD and USDA, and the Administrator of SBA. In addition, the report is available at no charge on GAO’s Web site at http://www.gao.gov. If you or your staff has questions regarding this report, please contact me at (202) 512-6806 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact points for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last page of this report. Individuals making key contributions to this report include Laurel E. Beedon, Amy R. Bowser, Kathleen M. Drennan, Gregory O. Dybalski, Luann M. Moy, Keith C. O’Brien, Carol L. Patey, Rebecca K. Rose, Tind S. Ryen, Albert C. Sim and Michael Springer. Stanley J. Czerwinski Director Strategic Issues Enclosures—5 6 GAO-12-938R Enclosure I: Briefing Slides GAO-12-938R 8 GAO-12-938R 9 GAO-12-938R 10 GAO-12-938R 11 GAO-12-938R 12 GAO-12-938R 13 GAO-12-938R 14 GAO-12-938R 15 GAO-12-938R 16 GAO-12-938R 17 GAO-12-938R 18 GAO-12-938R 19 GAO-12-938R 20 GAO-12-938R 21 GAO-12-938R 22 GAO-12-938R 23 GAO-12-938R 24 GAO-12-938R Enclosure II: Selected Economic Development Programs Included in nonmetro Included in city Agency Program county analysis analysis Commerce Economic Adjustment Assistance ● ● Grants for Public Works & Economic Development Facilities ● ● Trade Adjustment Assistance ● ● Community Trade Adjustment Assistance ● Economic Development - Support for Planning Organizations ● ● Economic Development - Technical Assistance ● Minority Business Development Centers ● Research and Evaluation Program ● Minority Business Opportunity Committee ● Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) HUD /Entitlement Grants ● ● CDBG/State's Program ● Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian Institutions Assisting Communities ● CDBG/Insular Area ● Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program ● SBA Small Business Development Center ● Microloan Demonstration Program ● ● Women's Business Ownership Assistance ● ● Microenterprise Development Grants ● Veterans Entrepreneurial Training and Counseling ● SCORE ● USDA Water and Waste Disposal System for Rural Communities ● Community Facilities Loans and Grants ● Rural Energy for America Program ● Water and Waste Disposal Loans and Grants (Section 306C) ● Rural Business Enterprise Grants ● Rural Cooperative Development Grants ● Small Business Innovation Research ● ● Technical Assistance and Training Grants ● Rural Economic Development Loans and Grants ● Assistance to High Energy Cost Rural Communities ● Rural Business Opportunity Grants ● Public Television Station Digital Transition Grant Program ● Schools and Roads Grants to States ● Solid Waste Management Grants ● Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants ● State Bulk Fuel Revolving Fund Grants ● GAO-12-938R Included in nonmetro Included in city Agency Program county analysis analysis Rural Microentreprenuer Assistance Program ● Grant Program to Establish a Fund for Financing Water and Wastewater Projects ● Schools and Roads Grants to Counties ● Empowerment Zones Program ● Distant Learning and Telemedicine Loans and Grants ● Total 40 9 Sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development data and GAO-11-477R. Note: Appropriation data for these programs, which gives an indication of relative size of each program, is provided in GAO-11-477R, 43-50. 26 GAO-12-938R Enclosure III: Comments from the Department of Commerce 27 GAO-12-938R 28 GAO-12-938R 29 GAO-12-938R Enclosure IV: Comments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development 30 GAO-12-938R 31 GAO-12-938R 32 GAO-12-938R Enclosure V: Related GAO Products Entrepreneurial Assistance: Opportunities Exist to Improve Program Collaboration, Data-Tracking, and Performance Management. GAO-12-819. Washington, D.C.: August 23, 2012 Limited Information on the Use and Effectiveness of Tax Expenditures Could Be Mitigated through Congressional Attention. GAO-12-262. Washington, D.C.: February 29, 2012. Efficiency and Effectiveness of Fragmented Economic Development Programs Are Unclear. GAO-11-477R. Washington, D.C.: May 19, 2011. Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue. GAO-11-318SP. Washington, D.C.: March 1, 2011. Revitalization Programs: Empowerment Zones, Enterprise Communities, and Renewal Communities. GAO-10-464R. Washington, D.C.: March 12, 2010. Community Development: Federal Revitalization Programs Are Being Implemented, but Data on the Use of Tax Benefits Are Limited. GAO-04-306. Washington, D.C.: March 5, 2004 Rural Economic Development: More Assurance Is Needed That Grant Funding Information Is Accurately Reported. GAO-06-294. Washington, D.C.: February 24, 2006. Economic Development: Multiple Federal Programs Fund Similar Economic Development Activities. GAO/RCED/GGD-00-220. Washington, D.C.: September 29, 2000. (450951) 33 GAO-12-938R This is a work of the U.S. government and is not subject to copyright protection in the United States. The published product may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without further permission from GAO. 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The Distribution of Federal Economic Development Grants to Communities with High Rates of Poverty and Unemployment
Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-09-14.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)