WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senate leaders late Thursday backed off their attempted raid on a fund set up to deal with foreclosed housing and neighborhood blight -- a fund they wanted to tap for highway and bridge funding instead.

With several other changes, this ends worries by land banks and housing advocates in Ohio and Michigan. The Hardest Hit Fund, a federal program established to help homeowners avoid foreclosure and later extended to clean up blighted neighborhoods, will continue to be used for those purposes.

Ohio was awarded $570 million from the fund since 2010, but had only used $499 million to date, said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat. Under a bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, and California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, the uncommitted share would have been diverted to help pay for a new highway bill. 

By taking back the money from Ohio and other states, highway bill proponents said they could pay for $1.7 billion worth of road and bridge repairs and construction. It was a small slice, however, of a larger highway bill -- one that Congress is rushing to finish in the next week.

The existing highway authorization bill expires July 31. While Congress could extend it, the highway trust fund still would lack the necessary revenue for updating the nation's roads and transit systems because it relies on an 18.4 cent-per-gallon gasoline tax that has not been raised since 1997. Congress is searching for additional funds.

But the Hardest Hit Fund won't be among them, Brown and other senators said. 

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