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Home > Advocacy > CWLA 2008 Children's Legislative Agenda > Social Services Block Grant (Title XX)


CWLA 2008 Children's Legislative Agenda

Social Services Block Grant (Title XX)

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  • Support restoration of full funding of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), Title XX of the Social Security Act.

  • Reject budget proposals to cut SSBG funding.


SSBG is a major source of federal funding that addresses the needs of vulnerable children and youth. SSBG represents 11% of federal funding for child welfare services. 1 SSBG frequently serves as a link between government funding and private and charitable sources. SSBG funds supplement local and charitable efforts by providing federal dollars to fill a gap these charities may not be able to meet. The breadth of services provided by SSBG funds can also cover shortfalls left by other federal social services programs.

In 1981, SSBG was converted from a matching entitlement fund to a capped federal block grant to states. States were free to decide who to serve and what services to provide. As a capped entitlement, SSBG funding was intended to bypass the annual appropriations process and automatically provide the level of funds set in the statute-$2.8 billion. Congress, however, reduced funding to $2.3 billion when the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant was created in 1996. Although funding was to be restored to $2.8 billion by 2003, it was reduced again to $1.9 billion in FY 1999, and to $1.7 billion in FY 2000. The $1.7 billion total is what is currently in law. In 2005, SSBG was used as a major funding source for hurricane relief, with Congress allocating an additional $550 million in SSBG solely for that purpose.

Future cuts continue to threaten SSBG. In the federal budget proposal for FY 2007, FY 2008 and FY 2009 President Bush proposed a cut of 30%, or $500 million, in SSBG funding. In 2007, the Department of Health and Human Services justified the cut by arguing that an assessment called the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) identified "several weaknesses of the block grant, noting that the flexibility of SSBG makes it difficult to measure performance." 2 The same budget document, however, promoted an option to convert federal foster care funds into a fixed "flexible grant." Congress in both years rejected the Administration's proposal on a bipartisan basis.

Although states can use SSBG funds for many social services, such as child care or services for the aging, child welfare services receive more of these funds than any other service area. In FY 2005, child protection and child foster care services each accounted for 24% of SSBG expenditures. Thirty-eight states used SSBG funds to support child protection services; 37 used SSBG to provide foster care. 3

Key Facts

States can use SSBG to fund 29 different services to prevent or remedy neglect or abuse of children or adults, achieve or maintain economic self-support, reduce unnecessary institutionalization, achieve or maintain independence, and secure referral and screening for appropriate institutional care. In FY 2005, states spent more than $755 million in SSBG funds on services to children and youth, including adoption, foster care, child protection, independent living, and residential services.

  • In 2005, 30 states used $38 million in SSBG funds to assist in the adoption of children. In 2005, more than 181,000 children and families received support funded in part by SSBG. 4

  • Adoption services are designed to facilitate timely placements of children with adoptive families. Services include counseling for birthparents, recruitment of adoptive homes, and pre- and post-placement training and counseling.

  • In 2005, of the 509,662 children in foster care, 117,436 waited to be adopted and 51,993 were adopted from foster care. 5
Foster Care
  • In 2005, 38 states used nearly $359 million in SSBG funds for foster care services to more than 518,000 children. 6 That year, 509,000 children were in foster care on September 30. 7

  • States use SSBG to pay foster care costs for the board and care of children not eligible for federal Title IV-E foster care assistance. Foster care services are designed to secure living arrangements for children or youth who have been abused and neglected and cannot live at home. These children and youth may live with foster care families, including relatives. They may also live in group homes, emergency shelters, residential facilities, preadoptive homes, or in supervised independent-living arrangements. Services include needs assessments, case planning, case management, medical care, child counseling, parent or foster parent counseling, and foster family recruitment.
Child Protection
  • In FY 2005, 41 states used more than $257 million in SSBG funds to protect children from abuse and neglect. More than 1.8 million children and adults received services funded in part by SSBG dollars. 8 In 2005, state and local child protective service agencies received an estimated 3 million reports of child abuse and neglect. 9

  • Child protective services are designed to prevent or remedy further abuse, neglect, or exploitation of children who may have experienced physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, or negligent treatment or maltreatment. Services include investigation, medical care, emergency shelter, case planning, child counseling, family counseling, legal assistance, and placement in foster care.
Independent Living
  • In FY 2005, 18 states used $8 million in SSBG funds to provide independent and transitional living services to more than 2,800 youth. 10

  • Supervised independent and post-foster care services for youth are designed to help older youth in foster care or homeless youth transition to independence. Services include educational assistance, employment training, training in daily life skills, and housing assistance.
Residential Treatment
  • In FY 2005, $93 million in SSBG funds supported residential treatment to more than 27,000 youth in 23 states. 11

  • Residential treatment services provide short-term residential care and comprehensive treatment for children who cannot be cared for at home or are in foster care and need specialized services. Services include psychological evaluations, alcohol and drug treatment, family counseling, individual counseling, remedial education, vocational training, case management, and supervised recreation.
Special Services for Youth at Risk
  • In FY 2005, 19 states used $71 million in SSBG funds to help more than 153,000 youth at risk. 12

  • Support for young people at risk is often fragmented between the juvenile justice, mental health, and child welfare systems. SSBG allows states to cut across different systems and provide the help youth need. Services are targeted at youth and their families who are, or may become, involved with the juvenile justice system. Designed to enhance family functioning and increase positive youth development, services include counseling, residential services, and medical care.
Prevention and Intervention
  • In FY 2005, 35 states used $145 million in SSBG funds to help more than 846,000 children, adults, and families. 13

  • Prevention and intervention services are services and activities designed to provide early identification and to target services that might prevent incidents of abuse, neglect, or family violence, along with other harmful behaviors. These services may prevent the removal of a child from the home and strengthen families. SSBG allows states to fund innovative and proven services according to local community needs.


  1. Scarcella-Andrews, C., Bess, R., Zielewski, E., & Geen, R. (2006). The cost of protecting vulnerable children V: Understanding state variation in child welfare financing (Assessing the new federalism, Occasional Paper). Available online. Washington, DC: Urban Institute. back
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2007). Budget in brief: Fiscal year 2008. Available online. Washington, DC: Author. back
  3. Administration for Children and Families (ACF). (2007). SSBG 2005: Annual report on expenditures and recipients, 2005. Available online. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. back
  4. Ibid. back
  5. Child Welfare League of America. (2006). Special tabulation of the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System. Washington, DC: Author. back
  6. ACF, SSBG 2005: Annual report on expenditures and recipients, 2005back
  7. CWLA, Special tabulation of the AFCARSback
  8. ACF, SSBG 2005: Annual report on expenditures and recipients, 2005back
  9. CWLA, Special tabulation of the AFCARSback
  10. ACF, SSBG 2005: Annual report on expenditures and recipients, 2005back
  11. Ibid. back
  12. Ibid. back
  13. Ibid. back

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Branden McLeod

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