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Home > Advocacy > CWLA Testimony and Comments > CWLA Testimony on Social Services Block Grant


Social Services Block Grant

Testimony by the Social Services Block Grant Coalition on the Importance of the Social Services Block Grant to Vulnerable Families and the Need for Restoration of Funding

October 11, 2001

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The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) Coalition representing a broad cross section of national, state and local human service agencies, policy makers, providers and charities is pleased to submit this testimony on the role of the Social Services Block Grant in addressing some of our most vital human service needs. We are pleased that the Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy is holding a hearing on S. 685, the Strengthening Working Families Act of 2001. One part of this legislation, Title IV, would restore funding to the Social Services Block Grant, and in so doing would assist programs that address the needs of over 12.5 million families and individuals who are in great need.

Originally this hearing was scheduled for September 12, 2001. The world and the country have, without a doubt, changed since the previous hearing was canceled. The need for restoration of the Social Services Block Grant has not. In fact the need for greater funding has only increased. We will address that fact shortly but let us first frame the overall importance of this block grant before we address the new demands created for SSBG as a result of the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

The Role of SSBG Funds in Addressing the Range of Human Service Needs

Title XX of the Social Security Act is critical to so many families and members of families in need of help. A primary mission of SSBG has been to assist states and local communities maintain at risk populations in the community through the provision of a network of vital social services. Frequently, receipt of services in just one of the many areas able to be addressed through SSBG. It is the very glue that keeps a given family intact. Unfortunately, many policymakers at both the national and local level fail to recognize that in many instances, the largest source of federal funding for the provision of these services is drawn from SSBG.

In many instances, funding drawn from SSBG is by far the largest source of federal funding. Many policymakers, both at the national level and local level do not recognize this.

Though by no means an exhaustive review of the types of services funded through SSBG, three broad-based and critical areas of service in which SSBG positively and significantly effects and carries out national priorities and policy include the provision of services to 1) adults and children with disabilities, 2) abused and neglected children and vulnerable youth, and 3) abused and neglected elderly and other adult protective services.

In 1998, States spent approximately $382 million of SSBG funds on services for people with disabilities, which is 13 percent of all SSBG expenditures. But 5 States, Montana, Georgia, California, Arkansas, and Massachusetts each spent 30 percent or more of their SSBG funds on services for adults and children with disabilities. Of these, Georgia spent more than 60 percent and Montana spent more than 90 percent of their SSBG funds on these services. Of the States with the highest SSBG expenditures on services for individuals with disabilities, 5 States, California, Georgia, Illinois, Florida, and Massachusetts, each spent more than $30 million of SSBG funds on services for adults and children with disabilities in 1998. California spent $114 million on these services. 38 States used SSBG funds for disabilities services. 570,110 adults and children with disabilities received services that were funded in whole or in part with SSBG funds in 1998.

The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) is a vital source of federal funds to states to support services that address the needs of abused and neglected children and vulnerable youth. In FY 1999, states used $802.2 million of their total SSBG allocation to provide services to protect and care for abused and neglected children and vulnerable youth.

Forty-two states used over $269 million SSBG dollars to protect children from abuse and neglect in FY 1999. In 1999, child protective service agencies received an estimated 2,975,000 reports of child abuse and neglect. In that same year $21.4 million in SSBG funds were used by 29 states to assist in the adoption of children. Of the over 500,000 children in foster care in 1999, 127,000 had a goal of adoption and 46,000 children were adopted from foster care. In addition to these funding decisions, states use SSBG dollars to pay for a range of additional programs that are in the category of child welfare services.

An additional area where SSBG funds are being used is to address elder abuse and neglect. The latest data collected from the reports submitted by states for federal fiscal year 1999 indicates just how vital a role this funding is in supporting state and local programs to address elder abuse and neglect.

In fiscal year 1999, 33 States used over $111 million in SSBG funds for adult protective services. In funding these services a total of approximately 651,000 adults received services that were funded in whole or in part with SSBG funds. In this represents approximately three percent of all SSBG expenditures. There are several states whose reliance on SSBG is even more pronounced.

A United Way of America survey found that diminishing SSBG funds as a result of recent budget cuts force adult protective service agencies throughout the country to make impossible choices on who to help, and who to leave behind. Two examples from the survey highlight this case. Cuts to SSBG forced a 50 percent decrease in the number of neglected and exploited disabled and elder adults served by the Utah State Adult Protective Services, from 158 in 1996 to just 76 in 2000. DuPage County Metropolitan Family Services of Wheaton, Illinois uses SSBG funding to support seniors who are homeless or are victims of elder abuse who are unable to stay in their homes or the homes of their caregivers. This program is the only one in the county that can provide for the unique physical and emotional needs of older individuals. Over the last five years, as need has increased, SSBG funding to the agency has remained stagnant.

It is important to note that the $111 million in funds spent on protective services and elder abuse through the Social Services Block Grant far exceeds the $4.73 million appropriated through Title VII (Elder Abuse) of the Older Americans Act. Many other SSBG services, such as legal support, adult day care, and home delivered meals often play a role in states efforts to address elder abuse but the funding for those programs are not included in the $111 million figure we cite.

In total, SSBG addresses many services that do have an impact on families. SSBG funding is also used for counseling, case management, transportation services, information and referral and employment services for targeted populations.

Recent Congressional History of SSBG

The Social Services Block Grant was enacted in 1981 when federal matching funds for social services and funding for social service staff training were combined into a block grant to states. These changes were part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, PL 97-35 (OBRA). Before 1981 these federal matching funds covered a range of human services including programs for families on AFDC, services to keep elderly adults and children out of institutions and a range of community-based programs. The 1981 Act capped funding, increased state flexibility and converted SSBG into a mandatory fund. Funding was set at $2.4 billion in 1982. In 1985 it was increased to $2.7 billion, a level it stayed at or near for most of the next decade until 1996.

With the passage of the welfare reform act in 1996 (PL 104-193), SSBG was changed in several ways. Funding was lowered to $2.38 billion in fiscal year 1996 through 2002. In 2003, funding was to increase back to the $2.8 billion level. PL 104-193 also allowed states to transfer up to 10 percent of their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant into SSBG. The transferred funds must be spent on children or their families whose income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. It is vital that the Committee understands this provision regarding the states' ability to transfer 10 percent of their TANF block grant. Some have argued that because states have TANF funds they can transfer some of that TANF block grant into SSBG to make up for any reductions to SSBG. The law however makes clear that these funds can only be spent on children and their families at 200 percent of poverty or below, which excludes most elderly and disabled persons.

Despite the fact that SSBG had been cut in fiscal year 1996 and had contributed significant amounts to welfare reform's budget savings, and despite the mandatory nature of SSBG funding, it became vulnerable to the annual decisions of appropriators. For fiscal year 1998 SSBG was cut to $2.299 billion. The following year SSBG funding was used as an offset in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century"-the transportation reauthorization. The cuts were to be $1.9 and eventually $1.7 billion. That legislation not only reduced SSBG funding to $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2001 and beyond but states were limited in their ability to transfer TANF funds into SSBG to no more than 4.25 percent of their TANF grant.

The Role of SSBG in Addressing the Impact of September 11, 2001

We recognize, as does everyone here, that the world we face and the country we live in have been effected in numerous ways by the terrorist assaults that took place in New York city, Virginia and Pennsylvania. We are all effected by the personal, emotional, physical and economic consequences for the short and long term.

As we indicated in our testimony, the Social Services Block Grant has always been a flexible source of funding for states and many of the services identified as allowable under the block grant are essential during times of crisis and emergency.

Emergency resource and referral services are a good is one example. In Connecticut SSBG resource and referral funds are being utilized to serve victims of the World Trade Center disaster. The state of Connecticut is using the 211 Infoline infrastructure to serve as the victims' assistance line for the families of Connecticut residents who were lost in the World Trade Center. Capacity of the center has been increased as state employees have been trained to answer calls. 211 Infoline's vast database of service providers is being used to guide the families of the victims to the resources that will help them with many issues including bereavement and financial support.

SSBG funded case management services are also vital in emergency situations. These services assists individuals and families in dealing with a variety of crisis situations by providing support, identifying appropriate resources, assisting in the development of a plan to resolve the immediate problem, and assisting the client in developing a plan to achieve self-sufficiency.

Counseling services will be critical throughout the country in the coming months ahead. Some of the specific services provided under this heading include mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, family counseling, counseling for adults in Employee Assistance Programs and counseling for children in child care centers.

Housing and legal services under SSBG may help obtain suitable housing, help make moving arrangements or may cover legal issues that may face a family or person confronted with an unanticipated personal crisis.

Beyond the immediate needs of families throughout the country is the fact that a recession will place great pressure on state budgets across the country and that in turn will increase pressure to reduce spending at the very time the need for this spending is greatest.

Restoring funding to SSBG would be an important action towards the goal of this legislation, strengthening working families as well as a signal by Congress recognizing the need for greater resources to support vital social services. Now there is an additional and tragic reason for the restoration of these funds. Some members of Congress have recognized this need and have introduced measures such as S. 501, the Social Services Block Grant Restoration Act, and we believe that is why this committee and its members are receptive to our concerns.

We urge the Committee to continue its work in examining ways to help working families and that includes a full restoration of SSBG to a level of no less than $2.38 billion.

The Social Services Block Grant Coalition

For further information and a list of nearly 300 national, state and local organizations that have signed onto our letter of support for SSBG please contact the chairpersons listed below:

Kathryn Dyjak
American Public Human Services Association
Phone: 202-682-0100

John Sciamanna
Child Welfare League of America
Phone: 202-639-4919

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