NASCSP’s Response to the Administration

–Timothy R. Warfield, Executive Director, NASCSP–

Earlier this week, I outlined the Administration’s expectations for a 21st Century anti-poverty program and noted that they’re asking for substantial changes to the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) as it stands. The good news is that we have an opportunity to shape just what these changes will be. If we effectively address the Administration’s concerns in our own legislative proposal, then at the same time we also get to cast the vision for what CSBG will become, drawing on the best of our collective wisdom and the latest research on ending poverty.

So, here are some key components I believe we need to emphasize as we address the Administration’s concerns about performance standards, competition, effectiveness, and discipline:

  • Confirm the agency designation requirements for currently-funded agencies and expand the CSBG Network to include other existing community-based organizations that are working to meet the goals and objectives of the CSBG legislation
  • Clear criteria and process to remove CSBG funding from under-performing agencies
  • Clear criteria and process to scale demonstrably successful programs
  • A clear alignment with the Administration’s priorities in the areas of health, education, energy, and employment
  • Strengthening of the States’ role and authority, especially regarding the goals and objectives of ending poverty and being held accountable through the bi-annual State Plans

Now, some might argue that such a legislative proposal seems implicitly critical of the current network. I think it simply reflects the exigencies of the current economic and political reality. Expanding the currently funded Network is not at odds with our identity. I think it’s just an option we’ve already exercised before in the history of Community Action, and one that could serve us well again by creating supportive partnerships for us with more organizations that do innovative and effective work in our communities.

Community Action Agencies (CAAs) are the means to the end of eliminating chronic poverty, but are not the end in and of themselves. To survive and thrive, States need to keep a clear focus on doing whatever it takes to achieve the end goal, not on preserving this or other means to that end. The Administration, as evidenced by its past budget proposals, wants to only fund “what works.” That is, they want initiatives that produce demonstrable results.

The States should lead the charge, not just come along for the ride and see what happens. We have a chance now to do just that. By ensuring that they’re the sharpest tools on the Administration’s belt, we can strengthen the CSBG Network and secure Community Action for years to come.