Chapter 10: Social Services Block Grant

Issues: Social Security Block Grants


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.

The SSBG has received annual appropriations of $1.7 billion in every year since FY2002.  However, since FY2013, the appropriated funding level for the SSBG has been reduced each year due to budget sequestration.  (Sequestration is a spending reduction process under which budgetary resources are canceled to enforce budget policy goals.)  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 Hurricane Sandy in 2013, 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 here; the purpose of this chapter of the Green Book is to provide an overview of the SSBG.

Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports

The House Ways and Means Committee is making available selected reports by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) for inclusion in its 2016 Green Book website. CRS works exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to Committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation. For prior reports, please see the 2012 Green Book and 2014 Green Book.

IF10115: Social Services Block Grant

94-953: Social Services Block Grant: Background and Funding

Additional Tables and Figures

Figure 10-1. SSBG Annual Appropriations in Nominal and Constant FY2016 Dollars, FY1982-FY2016

Figure 10-2. SSBG Expenditures by Selected Spending Categories, FY2014

Table 10-1. SSBG Funding Levels in Nominal and Constant FY2016 Dollars, FY1982-FY2016

Table 10-2. SSBG Allocations by State and Territory, Selected Fiscal Years 1998-2016

Table 10-3. Number of States Offering Selected Services, Fiscal Years 1999-2014

Table 10-4. Use of SSBG Funds by Expenditure Category, Fiscal Years 2001-2014

Legislative History

The following provides a legislative history of Social Services Block Grant from the second session of the 113th Congress through the first session of the 114th Congress. For prior history, please see prior editions of the Green Book.

The annual appropriations acts for FY2015 (P.L. 113-235) and FY2016 (P.L. 114-113) maintained the SSBG appropriation at $1.7 billion. However, this amount was reduced in both years due to sequestration, with final funding levels totaling $1.576 billion in FY2015 and $1.584 billion in FY2016.  These annual appropriations acts both maintained the 10% TANF transfer authority for states.

This page was prepared October 2016 for the 2016 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.