David Bradley, CEO of the National Community Action Foundation sent a letter to President Trump urging him to take a look at the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) and all it does to help Community Action Agencies across the nation empower people struggling with poverty. In fact Mr. Bradley says, "The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) is the only federal program with the exclusive goal of reducing poverty and promoting self-sufficiency." Unfortunately the Trump Administration's proposed Budget for FY2019 would eliminate funding for the CSBG. Mr. Bradley shared this letter with me in the hope that I could help spread the word about what's going on, and what's at stake. Please share this news with your community and let your state and local legislators know how important the CSBG is to our mission of helping people and changing lives.
Read David Bradley's letter to the President below...
The Honorable Donald Trump
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
April 11, 2018
Dear Mr. President,
On behalf of the nation's network of more than 1,000 local Community Action Agencies, we appreciate your initiative to reduce poverty by promoting opportunity and economic mobility. The executive order you signed on April 10 envisions a system of programs and policies that will increase self-sufficiency, well-being, and economic mobility for all American individuals and families. We wholeheartedly share that vision.
The executive order outlines a series of Principles of Economic Mobility, and directs federal agencies to review existing programs for consistency with these principles. We call your attention to one program in particular - the Community Services Block Grant - and request that you take a careful look at the ways in which it embodies all of the principles outlined in the executive order.
The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) is the only federal program with the exclusive goal of reducing poverty and promoting self-sufficiency. It is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services and provides block grants to states, which distribute at least 90% of funds to local Community Action Agencies (CAAs). These local agencies currently number more than 1,000. They operate in virtually every American county and served almost 16 million low-income people in 2016.
CAAs are locally controlled. Their governing boards reflect their communities - 1/3 of members represent local elected officials, 1/3 represents people in the low-income community, and the remainder are local businesses, schools, religious organizations, and other local stakeholders. Together with their extensive networks of private and public partners, CAAs conduct a comprehensive community needs assessment to identify local causes of poverty and barriers to self-sufficiency, and then work to ensure services are in place to address the most pressing of these issues. Community Action is flexible, innovative, locally responsive, and held accountable through a federally approved performance measurement system. CAAs achieve big impacts with small staffs and limited budgets. They embody each of the Principles of Economic Mobility outlined in the April 10 executive order, as follows:
"Improve employment outcomes and economic independence." CSBG promotes meaningful employment and helps remove obstacles to independence. An overarching goal of the program's authorizing law is to empower low-income families and individuals to become fully self-sufficient and to find and keep good jobs. In 2015, CAAs achieved nearly 97% of their work-related performance goals. These goals measured such outcomes as the number of unemployed people who found jobs, the number who kept a job for at least 90 days, the number who obtained an increase in earnings or benefits, and the number who obtained "living wage" employment or benefits.
"Promote strong social networks as a way of sustainably escaping poverty." CSBG expands the social networks of its clients. A bedrock principle of the program is to promote maximum participation of low-income people in the life of their local communities. Moreover, CAAs are holistic in their approach to serving individuals and families and may identify social or other forms of isolation as a barrier to self-sufficiency and economic independence.
"Address the challenges of populations that may particularly struggle to find and maintain employment." CSBG serves poor people, regardless of circumstance. CSBG clients are diverse and among others, include single parents and their children, formerly incarcerated individuals, homeless people, those with substance abuse issues, people with disabilities, and disconnected youth.
"Balance flexibility and accountability both to ensure that State, local, and tribal governments, and other institutions, may tailor their public assistance programs to the unique needs of their communities and to ensure that welfare services and administering agencies can be held accountable for achieving outcomes." CSBG is highly flexible and allows CAAs to tailor their programs to the specific needs of their communities. As a result, no two CAAs are alike. However, they are all held accountable to a common set of reporting requirements and performance indicators, through a national performance measurement system approved by HHS.
"Reduce the size of bureaucracy and streamline services to promote the effective use of resources." CSBG is efficient. Through comprehensive needs assessments and extensive networks of local partners, CAAs identify unmet needs in their communities and mobilize public and private resources to meet those needs. They deliver services in the most efficient way possible, whether through direct service delivery or through arrangements with other providers. CAAs also make extensive use of local volunteers.
"Reserve benefits for people with low incomes and limited assets." CSBG serves the poor. Federal law establishes the poverty level as the income eligibility criteria for CSBG-funded services, with limited exceptions for states that determine 125% of the poverty level would better promote certain objectives.
"Reduce wasteful spending by consolidating or eliminating Federal programs that are duplicative or ineffective." CSBG is not duplicative or ineffective. Unlike many Federal programs that serve low-income people, CSBG is not a single-purpose program. CAAs identify the services most needed in their local communities and develop programs to meet those needs, providing important services that would not otherwise exist. The effectiveness of CSBG is demonstrated nationally through a performance measurement system, and locally through the success stories of individual clients. The program's effectiveness is also shown by the outside support received; in 2016, for every $1 of CSBG funds, another $7.70 was leveraged from state, local, and private sources.
"Create a system by which the Federal Government remains updated on State, local, and tribal successes and failure, and facilities access to that information." CSBG reports extensive data on program activities and makes that data available to the public. All state and local agencies in the CSBG network are required to report extensive data on use of funds, performance outcomes, populations served, partner agencies, and other factors; these data are compiled into annual reports that are publicly available.
"Empower the private sector, as well as local communities, to develop and apply locally based solutions to poverty." CSBG is a locally controlled, public-private partnership. Most CAAs are private nonprofit organizations, and all CAAs have private sector representatives on their governing boards. CAAs partner with local businesses in the planning and delivery of services. Together, the private and public sectors identify causes and conditions of poverty within their communities, and develop locally appropriate solutions.
In closing, we regretfully note that the Administration's budget for FY2019 would eliminate funding for the CSBG. We ask that you take an honest and unbiased look at CSBG, specifically as it aligns with your own Principles of Economic Mobility, and reconsider this budget request. With support from the Administration, this high-impact, low-cost program can play an important and central role in achieving your vision of reducing poverty through opportunity and economic mobility.
CEO, National Community Action Foundation
CC: Mr. Stephen Miller, Senior Advisor to the President
Mr. Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Mr. Alex Azar, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services