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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Community Services Block Grants (CSBG): Background and Funding

Karen Spar
Specialist in Domestic Social Policy and Division Research Coordinator

Community Services Block Grants (CSBG) provide federal funds to states, territories, and tribes for distribution to local agencies to support a wide range of community-based activities to reduce poverty. Smaller related programs—Community Economic Development (CED), Rural Community Facilities (RCF), and Individual Development Accounts (IDAs)—also support antipoverty efforts. CSBG and some of these related activities trace their roots to the War on Poverty, launched in the 1960s. Today, they are administered at the federal level by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

CSBG and related activities are funded in FY2012 under the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-74), at a combined level of $732 million. This includes $677 million for CSBG, $30 million for CED (of which up to $10 million may be used for the Administration’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative), $5 million for RCF, and $20 million for IDAs.

President Obama submitted his FY2013 budget to Congress in February, requesting $400 million for CSBG and related activities. This marked a sharp drop in requested funding for the block grant from its FY2012 level of $677 million to $350 million in FY2013. Budget documents characterized this proposal as one of several “tough cuts to worthy programs” necessary to offset other spending increases in HHS. The Administration offered a similar request for FY2012, which Congress rejected. In last year’s budget, the Administration also signaled its intent to move CSBG toward a competitive program, in which states would award block grant funds among local agencies competitively, rather than via the current mandatory pass-through to designated “eligible entities.” The Administration’s FY2013 budget documents clarify this intent, explaining that HHS will work with Congress to develop “core” federal standards to measure performance of local agencies. If an existing eligible entity fails to meet the standards, the state would immediately conduct an open competition to replace that entity in serving the affected community.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on June 14 reported a FY2013 appropriations bill for HHS (S. 3295) that would maintain CSBG at its current level of $677 million. The bill also would provide level funding for CED ($30 million, with up to $10 million available for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative), increase RCF to $6 million, and provide level funding for IDAs ($20 million). The House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee approved its FY2013 bill on July 17, but the full House Appropriations Committee has not acted. The draft bill would provide $677 million for the CSBG, $30 million for CED (with no funds allowed for the Administration’s food initiative), and $5 million for RCF. The funding level for IDAs cannot be determined from the language of the draft bill.

The National Association for State Community Services Programs conducts an annual survey of states on the activities and expenditures of the nationwide network of more than 1,000 CSBG grantees. According to the most recent survey, the network served almost 19 million people in almost 8 million low-income families in FY2011. States reported that the network spent $15.4 billion of federal, state, local, and private resources, including $630 million of regular federal CSBG funds and more than $10 billion from other federal programs.

The Community Services Block Grant Act was last reauthorized in 1998 by P.L. 105-285. The authorization of appropriations for CSBG and most related programs expired in FY2003, although Congress has continued to fund these programs through the annual appropriations process. No legislation to reauthorize CSBG has been introduced since the 109th Congress.

Date of Report: August 9, 2012
Number of Pages: 33
Order Number: RL32872
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