Two federal block grant programs help states provide a broad range of social services important to older adults. The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) program funds agencies to help older people live independently and maintain self-sufficiency, prevent or remedy abuse or exploitation, provide in-home services to prevent unnecessary institutionalization, and provide services to individuals in institutions. The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) allocates funds to states to help alleviate poverty through employment and educational resources, among others.
Federal investment in social services has lost significant value in recent decades due to inflation, spending freezes, and budget cuts. At the same time, service demand continues to grow as the number of older people rises.
The ability of these programs to meet the needs of older people would be improved by collecting more data about program activities and participants and by getting input from community members and leaders to assess needs in the area.
Another area of concern about the distribution of these block grants is the allocation of federal funds to “faith-based” charities which raises the potential for discrimination against people of other religions or the imposition of religious practices.
Social Services and Community Services Block Grants: Policy
Addressing needs of older people
The federal government should require state CSBG and SSBG officials to consult with state and local agencies and organizations representing older people and other groups served by the CSBG and SSBG programs to ensure that the services provided are appropriate to meet community needs.
Along with local governments, states must devote a fair proportion of their block-grant funds to meeting the needs of older people.
Congress should maintain existing data collection requirements and should in addition require states to prepare yearly expenditure reports with age-specific and uniform data on program activities related to the social service needs of specific populations, such as racial and ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination, rural residents, and people with physical or mental disabilities.