Social Services Block Grants Introduction and Overview


The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) is permanently authorized by title XX, subtitle A, of the Social Security Act as a “capped” entitlement to states. This means that states are entitled to their share of funds, as determined by formula, out of an amount of money that is capped in statute at a specific level (also known as a funding ceiling). Block grant funds are given to states and territories to achieve a wide range of social policy goals, which include promoting self-sufficiency, preventing child abuse, and supporting community-based care for the elderly and disabled. States have broad discretion over the use of these funds. In FY2009, the largest expenditures for services under the SSBG were for child care, foster care services for children, and special services for the disabled.

The SSBG has received annual appropriations of $1.7 billion in every year since FY2002. In addition to funding from annual appropriations, the SSBG has occasionally received supplemental appropriations, most recently to support states in responding to the effects of natural disasters in 2008 and the Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2005.

At the federal level, the SSBG is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Legislation amending title XX is typically reported by the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

Title XX of the Social Security Act was created in 1975 (P.L. 93-647); however, it was the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (P.L. 97-35) that amended title XX to establish a Block Grant to States for Social Services.  More recently, health reform legislation enacted in March 2010 (P.L. 111-148) inserted a new subtitle on elder justice into title XX, which was itself re-titled as Block Grants to States for Social Services and Elder Justice. (Under this new law, the SSBG is authorized in subtitle A of title XX, while the elder justice provisions are contained in subtitle B of title XX.) The health reform law also amended subtitle A of title XX to establish two demonstration projects to address the workforce needs of health care professionals and a new competitive grant program to support the early detection of medical conditions related to environmental health hazards.  These other components of title XX are not addressed in great detail here; the purpose of this section of the Green Book is to provide an overview of the SSBG.

Chapter Overview

This chapter of the Green Book includes a Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report on the SSBG (CRS Report 94-953). A separate section identifies Tables and Figures included in the CRS report and provides additional tables and figures, which present historical and current (FY2009) data on SSBG expenditures by state and service category.  A Legislative History of the SSBG is provided in the next section, including a description of earlier efforts by the federal government to support state spending on social services. Finally, this chapter concludes with Links to Additional Resources, including links to SSBG administrative data published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.