How Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) Could Help Local Governments

The House-passed HEROES Act adopted by the House on May 15, 2020, includes significant funding under the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) that would help state and local governments address current budgetary shortfalls.

SSBG has always been a significant funder of a range of child welfare services, including foster care, youth services, child protection, prevention services, counseling, and case management that help families in contact with child welfare agencies. It has also been a significant funding source for domestic violence services. Under the House, legislation states could continue to use funds in this way.

During past national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Wilma, it was used to supplement the shortfalls of any Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding while being targeted to states most directly hit. The House HEROES Act uses SSBG to help supplement state and local governments in addition to the other relief measures in the legislation. It includes $850 million paid for through SSBG for child care needs for essential workers, which is intended as care services more flexible in terms of income eligibility requirements and the forms of care provided.

The larger relief through SSBG includes an additional $9.6 billion targeting disadvantaged communities and populations with half of the dollars going directly to local governments and community-based organizations. Under the provisions:

  • A grantee, a state (or a sub-grantee) must expend the funds by December 31, 2021.
  • The state is to use the funds to support emergency services to disadvantaged children, families, and households with “disadvantaged” defined as:
    • An individual, or individuals in a community experiencing material hardship;
    • A household that includes a child served under the School Lunch Program or, if not for the school’s closure, would receive free or reduced-price school meals;
    • Individuals in a community, with barriers-to-employment; or
    • Individuals in a community that, as of the date of the enactment of the HEROES ACT, do not experience a 56-day downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses; COVID-like syndromic cases; documented COVID–19 cases; or positive test results as a percentage of total COVID–19 tests.
  • For the first time, SSBG funding is extended to Tribal communitieswith the intention of providing $400 million of the $9.6 billion for Tribal communities and governments.
  • Half of the $9.6 billion is passed through to local governments or organizations:
    • In the case of a state in which a county administers or contributes financially to the state matching share for Title IV programs of the Social Security Act, (TANF, Child Welfare Services, Promoting Safe and Stable Families, Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, Subsidized Guardianship, Child Support, Child Care):
      • the state may pass these funds onto the chief elected official, urban county administrator, the local government, or community-based organizations
      • in other cases (when local governments don’t match the Title IV programs) states must pass funds on locally in-proportion to the population of disadvantaged individuals in that part of the state (these local governments have to expend or distribute the funds in consultation with community-based organizations) or the state can pass funds onto community-based organizations with experience serving disadvantaged families and individuals.

SSBG funds can be used for administering emergency services; providing short-term cash, non-cash, or in-kind emergency disaster relief; providing services with demonstrated need in accordance with objective criteria that are made available to the public; operational costs directly related to providing these services; local government emergency social service operations; and providing emergency social services to rural and frontier communities that may not have access to other emergency funding streams.

Under the HEROES ACT conditions, the funding cannot be distributed based on individual eligibility determinations for short-term, non-cash, in-kind emergency disaster relief to communities. States cannot use the additional funds to supplant current state general revenue funds for social services or use SSBG funds for costs that are reimbursable by FEMA.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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