On Friday, March 12, a number of groups spearheaded by the Child Welfare League of America, Generations United, the National Association of County Human Service Directors, Zero to Three, Easter Seals and the National Adult Protective Services Association, sent a letter to all members of Congress in support of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). The letter signed by more than 65 national organizations highlights the significance of SSBG with the wide representations of organization signing onto the letter.

The letter highlights the importance to SSBG to child welfare (especially child protection) and then went on to point out,

“SSBG is a vital and flexible funding source helping children, older adults and people with disabilities in a range of ways. The outcome results for SSBG are clear, in 34 states more caseworkers are available to investigate reports of child abuse and because of SSBG 36 states can provide services for victims of domestic violence and victims of elder abuse.  It supports services for those adults in jeopardy of entering a nursing home or institution and helps to fill the numerous state and local budget gaps in areas as diverse as senior services, mental health services, and services to people with disabilities.”

Some in Washington are advocating the elimination of SSBG as a way to fund child welfare services.  Others, especially in the House of Representatives, see it as an easy way to cut spending for deficit reduction or to increase spending in other areas such as defense spending which may get hit with further reductions because of the sequestration cap.   Both budget committees are expected to adopt budget resolutions this week (see below) and in the recent past the House has proposed SSBG elimination in its budget resolution. The difference this year is that in the past few years the House resolutions have died in the process. With Congress in the control of one party, a final budget resolution may be adopted.

Those who advocate eliminating the $1.7 billion in SSBG dollars in an effort to free up some funds for child welfare assume they would be able to retain a significant portion of $1.7 billion in mandatory spending for child welfare purposes. But such a large revenue stream, once up for grabs in Congress, could get eaten up by tax reductions or spending in other areas. Any changes would also mean that the current permanent nature of SSBG would likely go away. SSBG is a mandatory program, meaning it doesn’t fight for appropriations each year but is written into law. In addition a shift into a much smaller allocation for a child welfare services program might require a reauthorization every five years which could condition an extension on finding spending cuts in other areas to maintain the program.

As the letter indicates SSBG funds a range of vital human services that may not be replaced in state budgets.

Outside of child welfare SSBG is a significant funder of domestic violence services at $197 million (very little TANF transfers dollars in this category). Over a half million adults (duplicated counts) receive services which are essentially for domestic violence and elder abuse services.  Through this century the single biggest recipient of SSBG funding category is for special services for the disabled at $230 million from SSBG ($307 million with TANF) serving over 270,000 children and 640,000 adults.

In the last SSBG annual report for 2012, funds spent on foster care reached $394 million in combined SSBG/TANF dollars (state can transfer some TANF funds into SSBG) with SSBG providing $176 million of this total.  This is not an insignificant total when you consider states spent $1.3 billion in maintenance payments through the main federal source of funding, Title IV-E foster care funding in that same year.

Child Protective Services (CPS) received $136 million in SSBG dollars and $331 million when TANF funding is included. Dollars provided through SSBG either alone or combined with the TANF transfer far exceeds what the Congress appropriates through the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) which continues to decrease down to little more than $25 million in FY 2015. CAPTA is dependent on annual appropriations and is intended to assist states not just in child protection but child abuse prevention. SSBG also provides $73 million in prevention and intervention services serving more than 2 million children in duplicated counts.

The annual report lists both the national spending and then the state by state reporting.