After the ICPC vote, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a bill HR 4724 that would eliminate the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). The vote and the bill was part of a strategy to get a budget resolution adopted (see below).

Members of the Republican conservative caucus (Freedom Caucus) have told Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS) that they will not vote for the budget resolution, potentially denying a majority vote. As a result, House leadership has decided to offer conservatives a package of mandatory and entitlement cuts if they will go along with last year’s budget agreement on appropriations.

SSBG is an easy target for elimination since it is an entitlement block grant to states totaling $1.7 billion.  Its elimination results in immediate budget savings, savings you don’t immediately realize if you cut a benefit program like SNAP or Medicaid.

There was more than a half an hour of a debate during the Committee consideration.  The bill passed by a vote of 20 to 16. The vote was partisan with only Congressman Robert Dold (R-IL) crossing party lines to support SSBG.  The debate included restatements of previous arguments.  Republican members including Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), Congressman Charles Boustany (R-LA) and Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY) arguing its elimination would help address the overlapping of what they described as 80 anti-poverty programs, it would eliminate the bureaucracy that SSBG represents, it would eliminate a program that has no outcomes and is outdated.  Democrats including Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL) and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), among others refuted those arguments including the point that there are 80 anti-poverty programs.  They also highlighted SSBG’s role in funding child welfare services and other services to senior citizens and individuals with disabilities.

Leadership’s intent is that the SSBG elimination along with other program cuts will be bundled and House members will have an opportunity to vote for the budget resolution with a separate vote on the cuts.

Ways and Means Democrats provided a blog post that described the reaction and letters of various organizations opposed to the SSBG elimination:

Child Welfare League of America: “We can’t tell you exactly what the outcome would be if you eliminate SSBG. We suggest the answer to that question is, in part the same as the answer to this, what is the outcome when a child abuse report is filed and there is no one there to investigate?”

County Welfare Directors Association of California: “We find particularly objectionable the depiction of the SSBG as a ‘no-strings-attached slush fund’ in materials sent out regarding the bills. Enacted during the Reagan Administration, SSBG was created as a block grant so states and counties could determine how best to target a capped amount of federal funds to meet human services needs in their communities.”

First Focus Campaign for Children: “SSBG makes child care more affordable for the parents of over 3.7 million children, funds child abuse prevention and response efforts that protect 2 million children, and finances foster care for children victimized by abuse or neglect. These services are necessary to support families in achieving economic stability and protecting the physical safety and mental health of our nation’s children and youth.”

American Public Human Services Association: “Without SSBG, states and local agencies would be unable to step in and fund critical supports for aging and elderly populations that have no alternative sources of financing. If Congress ends SSBG but provides no other funding to take its place, the consequences to these populations are likely to be serious and widespread.”

National Association of County Human Services Administrators: “Most counties have reported that a loss of SSBG funds would lead to elimination or reduction of services, followed by lay-offs and institutionalization of individuals who are currently receiving in-home services. The program does not serve as a ‘no-strings-attached slush fund’ as depicted in the Committee’s press release regarding the bill. It is a critical federal component to support county efforts to protect our most vulnerable families.”

The Arc: “Eliminating the SSBG would reduce essential funding at a time when many state and local budgets continue to experience ongoing financial pressure and many people with disabilities, seniors, and families are in urgent need of assistance.”

Coalition on Human Needs: “It is ironic that the House Committee on Ways and Means’ summary description of this bill calls SSBG a “slush fund,” since it is doing just what the Reagan-era Congress asked of it. These funds are urgently needed now, because 35 states and the District of Columbia reduced their spending on child welfare services between 2010 and 2012 (the most recent data available).”

Easter Seals: “The champions of SSBG have included the leadership from both parties. In past congresses SSBG has had bipartisan support on both the House Ways and Means committee and the Senate Finance Committee. We hope this will be true again.”

About the Author:

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

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