By: Eric Behna, Program & Policy Analyst
Critics of the U.S. social safety net have often painted federal antipoverty programs as being overly proscriptive and out of touch with actual Americans in need. The Republican authored “A Better Way” antipoverty plan repeatedly emphasizes the need for state and local leadership, asserting that “state and local leaders are in the best position to respond to the challenges facing their communities, not bureaucrats in Washington”.
It turns out we already have a model antipoverty program with a long record of success that empowers states and local communities- the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG). However, two weeks ago the president’s budget blueprint called for eliminating all funding for this program. CSBG has been around since President Johnson’s War on Poverty and the federal Office of Economic Opportunity, but in the 1980’s the program was reformed to give states a larger role. The program is run out of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but federal funding is awarded to all 50 states as well as D.C. and a few U.S. territories. The states then distribute the funds to over 1,000 local Community Action Agencies, covering 99% of U.S. counties.
What does CSBG do exactly? CSBG served over 15 million low-income Americans last year, providing a wide range of services geared to fight poverty and help Americans with low-incomes achieve self-sufficiency. CSBG services are among the most diverse of any federal antipoverty program, supporting everything from job training, to preventative health services, education, nutrition, and housing. A hallmark of Community Action and CSBG is the reliance on a Community Needs Assessment, a project that surveys the local community and tailors the local agencies’ services to unique community needs. Additionally, the tripartite boards of local Community Action Agencies must include members of the local community who have low-incomes, ensuring that local needs are accurately reflected in the priorities of the organization.
Furthermore, CSBG is a sound federal investment that produces real results. For every $1 of CSBG, CAAs were able to leverage $7.70 from state, local, and private sources. CSBG also incorporates a strong framework of accountability and data reporting standards called Results Oriented Management and Accountability (ROMA). Each local agency and state office uses an extensive set of National Performance Indicators in the annual CSBG Information Survey to report annual outcomes. Data on the impact of CSBG can be found in the latest NASCSP annual report, but here’s just a few of CSBG’s accomplishments last year:
- 273,361 people with low-incomes enrolled school-aged children in before and after school programs.
- 224,356 infants and children participated in pre-school activities, assisting in developing school readiness skills.
- 507,394 infants and children obtained age-appropriate immunizations, medical, and dental care.
- 1,853,810 senior citizens received services and maintained an independent living situation as a result of services.
- 1,125,875 individuals with disabilities received services and maintained an independent living situation as a result of services.
If leaders want to tackle poverty through flexible, innovative, and locally determined efforts, they need look no further than CSBG. CSBG has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and we urge members of Congress to recognize this incredibly successful Federal-State-Local partnership by ensuring robust appropriations for the program. Now is the time for policymakers to support and expand CSBG, building on its proven record of success in fighting poverty.