How Community Services Block Grants Help Communities Transition Out of Poverty

In this article...
  • Essential community services that help low-income families and individuals reach economic stability are funded through Community Services Block Grants.

What Are Community Services Block Grants?

The Community Services Block Grants (CSBG) program was created by the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1981, earmarking federal funds for poverty reduction programming at the local level. It is one type of block grant; others include healthcare, education, community development and crime control. 

This block grant is administered by the Office of Community Services, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Allocations to states, territories and tribal entities are based around their poverty statistics. Sub-state recipients, known as Community Action Agencies (CAAs), serve as the local governing board that oversees the disbursement of these block grants to grassroots organizations. 

What Is This Type of Block Grant Used For?

Private and nonprofit groups use this funding to carry out a variety of programs aimed at dismantling the barriers that keep low-income neighborhoods from achieving socio-economic stability. Program scopes vary by organization and are designed around the area’s specific set of challenges. Residents are encouraged to participate in the governing board in order to leverage the community’s assets for improving overall quality of life at the individual, household and community levels. 

Individuals and families, including the homeless, migrants and elderly, can avail of block grant funding through the benefits and services offered by these social service organizations. Services include assistance in securing employment, housing, and nutrition, or providing access to health services, education, financial literacy, etc. Strategies for strengthening the social infrastructure include early childhood development, the needs of at-risk youth, crisis intervention and debt counseling.

Benefits of Community Services Block Grants

The CSBG program thus aims to reduce poverty by helping vulnerable populations in becoming as self-sufficient as they can be, thereby revitalizing poor neighborhoods. Its setup allows jurisdictions to innovate locally-appropriate solutions and use community-based approaches. And performance tracking lets grantees develop, implement and expand programs that have the most optimal social impact.

Community Service Block Grants have been a significant source of flexible funds for anti-poverty efforts since their inception. Data from FY 2017 show that these grants served almost 17 million individuals, including 6.9 million children, or 7.3 million families