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Agencies team up to make grants more effective

From Paul Courson, CNN
  • Grants to be awarded for projects that coordinate jobs, housing, transportation benefits
  • "Where we work, and where we live, and how we commute" are connected, official says
  • Officials say the effort is supported by both parties in Congress

Washington (CNN) -- Two federal departments have teamed up to coordinate the awarding of development grants, in an effort to to use taxpayer money more effectively for projects that connect housing with jobs and the means to get to them.

"This isn't about big federal spending," said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. "These are relatively small investments that will spark better use of existing money."

His agency, along with the Transportation Department, awarded nearly $68 million in "Sustainable Community Challenge Grants" for a wide variety of urban, suburban, and rural development proposals.

Donovan highlighted the awards at a Thursday news conference with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Donovan said the coordination among agencies is a better approach, "instead of Transportation putting money over here for a project, and [HUD is] putting money over there for housing," without any attention to reducing commuting time and the cost to get to where the jobs are.

He said the goal is "to ensure that all Americans can afford to live in communities with access to employment, schools and public transportation options."

Also at the event was White House domestic policy director Melody Barnes, who said President Barack Obama wanted a fresh approach to the community grants because "where we work, and where we live, and how we commute between the two are directly related to one another."

But, she said, "until recently you wouldn't have known that, based on the way the federal government provided assistance."

Jackson said the EPA helped establish criteria to encourage sustainable "green" development in the proposals, including the recycling of industrial and other areas that are underutilized.

The announcement of the federal grant money comes just days before the midterm elections.

"There is no partisanship" about the grants, LaHood declared, citing congressional support from both parties for funding that pays for the grants. "This is about the communities that these members of Congress come from," LaHood said. "This is about their constituents."

"This is the most bipartisan effort the administration has taken," he added.

Donovan said the grant program placed less emphasis on how a community would use the money and stressed the importance of how a proposed project would turn out.

"This is a very different approach," he said. "It's saying, you tell us what your vision is for your community, you come to us with proposals for planning. What we're going to do is hold you accountable to a series of metrics of outcomes we want to see."

LaHood said grant supervisors will make sure those receiving the awards spend the money and achieve results as promised.