By Maxine Bernstein
The recently-awarded federal $4.5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control to Portland and three other cities to find ways to prevent youth violence is in peril.
The Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday night approved a bill that eliminated $19.7 million in funding for CDC's Youth Violence Prevention activities, which would have included the grant money.
The committee set aside money for CDC's rape prevention activities, domestic violence community projects, traumatic brain injury and injury control centers, but specifically cut funding for "youth violence prevention programs," according to a committee report.
Multnomah County public health department officials, who were excited to learn early this month that Portland was chosen to receive an annual $225,000 grant over five years to support violence prevention programs, were stunned by the news.
"It's ridiculous," said Multnomah County chair Jeff Cogen Thursday. "This grant was a really big deal, a phenomenal idea. The fact that they would cut it is so short-sighted, so pennywise and pound foolish. It's going to hurt our community, especially at a time when we've had an upsurge in gang violence."
Noelle Wiggins, who had applied for the grant as manager of Multnomah County health department's Community Capacitation Center, said she was flabbergasted to learn Thursday that the funding was cut as local officials "had no clue" this was even being considered or before the appropriations committee.
"The idea of zeroing out all CDC's violence prevention funding will be devastating nationwide,'' Wiggins said.
Rachel Davis, managing director of the Oakland-based Prevention Institute -- a non-profit that is also funded by CDC and provides technical assistance to communities, said violence-plagued neighborhoods will suffer. Though she said the programs the Senate committee did support are important, "none of these can be fully actualized if our young people are not safe."
"Without funding and support, violence prevention interventions will default back to an emphasis on arrest and imprisonment. This is unacceptable," Davis said.
The CDC this month had announced the grant awards to Multnomah County's Department of Public Health, and public health departments in Boston, Houston, and Salinas, Calif. Under the Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere grant, or STRYVE, the county health department planned to lead a coalition of groups to build on local programs to prevent youth violence within high-risk communities in North and Northeast Portland.
Youth violence prevention advocates said they plan to continue lobbying U.S. lawmakers to restore the funding. Cogen will do the same, he said.
"I do know it's not over until it's over," Cogen said. "I know that our senators Wyden and Merkley support this grant. I'm confident they're going to do what they can to support that."