Watchdog scrutinizes Trump administration’s opportunity zones


WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — An internal federal watchdog will launch a probe into a White House program designed to lift struggling communities out of poverty, with Democrats skeptical about how it is actually being used.

Opportunity zones give businesses huge tax breaks if they invest, create jobs or build homes in distressed communities. The Trump administration says the program is one of its biggest economic initiatives — but reports have suggested it is being abused.

“After almost two years, we don’t have a single opportunity zone project (in my district). Not one,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said. “It’s not so far been what we had envisioned.”

ProPublica has reported that wealthy investors, some with direct ties to President Donald Trump like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and family of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, were spending big on the program in relatively well-to-do communities.

That prompted Cleaver and fellow Democrats to call for the internal investigation by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

“We’re just making the wealthy neighborhoods much more attractive. … I’m not in favor of that and I’m going to do everything I can to stop it,” Cleaver said, adding that he hopes the investigation will ensure the program is fair to everyone.

But the Trump administration contends the program is doing what it promised.

“This is President Trump’s commitment to looking out for the forgotten communities,” Ja’ron Smith, a deputy assistant to the president, said. “At the end of the day, we stand ready to work with anyone who wants to create a strategy that actually touches people.”

The Treasury Department says the investigation should conclude this spring.

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