The Social Services Block Grant is under attack. What does this mean for Ohio?

The House Ways and Means Committee announced last week that Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) is sponsoring legislation that would end the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), a $1.7 billion dollar grant allocated to states to fund numerous critical social service programs. And on Wednesday, this bill was one of several that passed through the Committee, in an effort to create budget savings. The other two pieces of legislation that the Committee passed include changing the refundable child tax credit to require a Social Security number, and a bill that would require those who receive overpayments of ACA exchange subsidies to repay them.

Labeled as a “no-strings-attached slush fund,” Brady has criticized the SSBG program as duplicative and ineffective. While threats to the SSBG are not new, for many advocates, this represents yet another blow to the social services safety net, which would compromise services for many vulnerable Ohioans.

What is the Social Services Block Grant?
Federal funding for these social services was originally created under Title XX of the Social Security Act, however the program shifted into a block grant in 1981. The SSBG is a federally administered funding stream allocated to states to fund a range of services aimed at improving self-sufficiency and promoting healthy families and communities. Many of these services target older adults and children, with an emphasis on keeping families united and allowing older adults and individuals with disabilities to remain in their communities. According to the Administration for Children and Families, funded programs include daycare, protective services, special services to persons with disabilities, adoption, case management, health related services, transportation, foster care, substance abuse, housing, home-delivered meals, independent/transitional living, and employment services. Federal statute requires that all funds must align with one of the five goals of the program:

  1. Achieving or maintaining economic self-support to prevent, reduce or eliminate dependency;
  2. Achieving or maintaining self-sufficiency;
  3. Preventing or remedying neglect, abuse or exploitation of children and adults unable to protect their own interest, or preserving, rehabilitating or reuniting families;
  4. Preventing or reducing inappropriate institutional care by providing for community-based care, home-based care or other forms of less intensive care; and/or
  5. Securing referral or admission for institutional care when other forms of care are not appropriate or providing services to individuals in institutions.

House Democrats who opposed the bill have suggested that as many as 30 million Americans would be impacted if the funds were eliminated. In addition, as states may transfer up to 10 percent of their TANF funds to SSBG, there is concern that elimination of the SSBG could put further pressure on states to redirect TANF money to previously SSBG funded programs, and further away from direct cash assistance to families.

How is the Social Services Block Grant Spent in Ohio?
Ohio receives about $63 million per year in SSBG funding. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (JFS) administers the grant; 72.5 percent of the funding stays with JFS, while 12.9 percent goes to the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD), and 14.6 percent is allocated to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (MHAS). SSBG money is spent on a broad array of services and supports.

JFS funds go to support housing and food assistance, employment services, case management, family planning, and are critical to funding protective services for children. In addition, SSBG is an important source of funding for Adult Protective Services (APS), which have been historically underfunded in Ohio and many other states. In fact, according to SSBG annual reporting, these funds represent 46 percent of the total expenditures for APS overall across the country. JFS money is allocated to counties based on a formula that considers population, property tax, unemployment, and age.

MHAS relies on these funds to support case management services, counseling, transportation and employment supports, and residential services, while most of DODD’s SSBG funds go to County Boards for employment and day supports, early intervention, independent living, transportation supports, and other services.

According to the most recently available report from the Administration for Children and Families (2012), over 289,000 Ohioans received services as a result of the SSBG. Proponents of the block grant cite the flexibility it provides to local communities to target spending to meet their community’s unique needs, and to fill the gaps left by other recent spending reductions.

What’s next?
There is still a long way to go before the elimination of the SSBG becomes a reality. However, advocates for these important services would benefit from watching closely as the bill moves through the full House, and possibly, the Senate. While the SSBG has champions on both sides of the aisle, the current volatility around the federal budget and the push to reduce spending could lead to unprecedented cuts that could have a harsh impact on Ohioans in need. You can track this bill for updates here.