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Baltimore does not receive the ‘billions’ Trump says city government wastes, steals

Democratic U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, the House Oversight and Reform Committee chairman, is a central figure in the almost-daily battle with Republican President Donald Trump over access to documents and officials' testimony.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, the House Oversight and Reform Committee chairman, is a central figure in the almost-daily battle with Republican President Donald Trump over access to documents and officials' testimony. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

President Donald Trump not only assailed U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings by claiming — without facts — that the veteran Democrat has overseen the theft and waste of federal funds awarded to his congressional district. The Republican specifically besmirched all of city government by alleging that the resignations of two recent Democratic mayors endorsed by Cummings somehow prove that Baltimore’s “corrupt government” has stolen “billions” from U.S. support sent to the city.

One problem: City Hall doesn’t get anywhere near a single billion dollars, let alone the “billions” Trump has repeatedly proclaimed.

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The federal website that tracks spending — USAspending.gov — says individuals, agencies and other institutions in Baltimore have received roughly $8 billion over the past two years. But the vast majority has not gone to City Hall to distribute, according to the website, which is the federal government clearinghouse for spending data.

For example, at least $3 billion has gone to the Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins Medical Services Corp. and the University of Maryland for research, medical care and other programs. More than $600 million pays for vouchers and other rental and public housing subsidies, money that mostly winds up in the hands of landlords to help pay rent for low-income city residents.

A billion of the money represents payments by the Social Security Administration to retirees and disabled people, while nearly half a billion goes to Baltimore City Public Schools as “Title I” support to provide extra services for students from poor families. About $200 million goes to nonprofit agencies that help people with HIV or AIDS. Another $100 million has gone to college students through the federal Pell Grant program to help pay tuition.

According to Baltimore’s official budget reports, the city government itself has received $380 million in federal assistance over the last two fiscal years for operating and capital expenses. The money represents federal grants sprinkled across 75 services — with the biggest amounts paying for HIV treatment services for people without health insurance, permanent housing for the homeless and reducing tobacco use by pregnant women.

That total includes $40 million the federal government awarded as Community Development Block Grants, flexible funding that allows local governments to deliver housing renovations, economic development and recreational facilities to low-income neighborhoods. It’s a program Trump wants to eliminate.

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