Chapter 10: Social Services Block Grant

Social Services Block Grant 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 FY2010, the largest expenditures for services under the SSBG were for foster care services for children, child care, and special services for the disabled.

The SSBG has received annual appropriations of $1.7 billion in every year since FY2002.  However, in FY2013 and FY2014, the appropriated funding level for the SSBG was reduced to $1.613 billion and $1.578 billion, respectively, 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 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).  One section identifies Tables and Figures included in this report, while a separate section provides Additional Tables and Figures that present historical and the most recent available (FY2010) 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 SSBG administrative data published by HHS.

This page was prepared on August 25, 2014, for the 2014 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.

Social Services Block Grant 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 2014 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.

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

This page was prepared on August 25, 2014, for the 2014 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.

Social Services Block Grant Tables and Figures in CRS Reports

The following tables and figures related to the SSBG can be found in the CRS report included in this chapter of the Green Book.

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

Table 1. SSBG Funding, FY1985-FY2014

Table 2. FY2013 and FY2014 SSBG Allotments to States and Territories

Table 3. Total SSBG Expenditures by Service Category, FY2010

Table A-1. TANF Transfers to the SSBG in FY2013

Table B-1. State Allocations from the FY2013 Supplemental

Table B-2. State Allocations and Spending from the FY2008 SSBG Supplemental

Table B-3. State Spending from the FY2006 SSBG Supplemental

Figure B-1. HHS Allocation Methodology for the FY2008 SSBG Supplemental Funding

This page was prepared on August 25, 2014, for the 2014 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.

Social Services Block Grant Legislative History

The following provides a legislative history of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) during the first session of the 113th Congress. For prior legislative history, see the 2012 edition of the Green Book.

113th Congress

The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013 (P.L. 113-6), maintained annual SSBG appropriations at $1.7 billion for FY2013 and maintained the 10% TANF transfer authority for states. However, the amount appropriated for FY2013 was reduced to $1.613 billion due to sequestration. In FY2013, the SSBG also received supplemental funding of $475 million, post-sequester, from the Disaster Relief Act, 2013 (P.L. 113-2). The supplemental stipulated that these funds were for necessary expenses resulting from Hurricane Sandy. On March 28, 2013, HHS issued an information memorandum regarding the availability of these supplemental funds. According to the memorandum, five states were allocated supplemental funds based on their relative share of FEMA Individual Assistance registrants from Hurricane Sandy, as of March 18, 2013. These states were: Connecticut ($10.6 million), Maryland ($1.2 million), New Jersey ($226.8 million), New York ($235.4 million), and Rhode Island ($0.5 million).

Congress and the President did not enact FY2014 appropriations prior to the start of the fiscal year, October 1, 2013.  This resulted in a funding gap and government shutdown that lasted sixteen days until a short-term continuing resolution was signed into law on October 17, 2013. A second FY2014 continuing resolution was enacted on January 15 (P.L. 113-73) and maintained temporary government-wide funding until the FY2014 omnibus was signed by the President on January 17 (P.L. 113-76). Ultimately, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (P.L. 113-76) on January 17, 2014. This law appropriated $1.7 billion for the SSBG and maintained the 10% TANF transfer authority for states. The FY2014 appropriation level was reduced to $1.578 billion due to sequestration.

This page was prepared on August 25, 2014, for the 2014 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.