Congress established the Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community (EZ/EC) program in 1993 and the Renewal Community (RC) program in 2000 to provide assistance to the nation's distressed communities. To date, Congress has authorized three rounds of EZs, two rounds of ECs, and one round of RCs. The Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000 mandated that GAO audit and report in 2004, 2007, and 2010 on the EZ/EC and RC programs and their effect on poverty, unemployment, and economic growth. This report describes (1) the features of the EZ/EC and RC programs, (2) the extent to which the programs have been implemented, and (3) the methods used and results found in evaluations of their effectiveness.
Both the EZ/EC and RC programs were designed to improve conditions in distressed American communities; however, the features of the programs have changed over time. Round I and II EZs and ECs received different combinations of grant funding and tax benefits, while Round III EZs and RCs received mainly tax benefits. To implement the programs, federal agencies have, among other things, designated participating communities and overseen the provision of program benefits. Since 1994, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have designated a total of 41 EZs and 115 ECs, and HUD has designated 40 RCs. Available data show that Round I and II EZs and ECs are continuing to access their grant funds and IRS data show that businesses are claiming some tax benefits. However, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not collect data on other tax benefits and cannot always identify the communities in which they were used. Also, efforts by HUD to obtain these data by survey were limited to Round I designees, and EZ and RC officials have had difficulty obtaining such information directly from businesses. The lack of tax benefit data limits the ability of HUD and USDA to administer and evaluate the programs. The few evaluations that systematically collected and analyzed data on EZ/EC program effectiveness used a variety of research methods to study different aspects of the program. The most comprehensive of these studies--the HUD Interim Assessment--found that employment of Round I EZ residents had increased from 1995 to 2000, that larger businesses were more likely to use tax benefits than smaller businesses, and that resident participation in EZ or EC governance has been uneven, among other things.
Click here for the full GAO Report, PDF Version, 96pgs. 1.9M