What is the Community Services Block Grant?

The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funds the nationwide network of 1,100 Community Action Agencies. These organizations create, coordinate, and deliver comprehensive programs and services to many people living in poverty in the United States in order to help individuals and families achieve self-sufficiency.

As a block grant, it is unique in that the funding is discretionary—agencies choose how to spend it in the most effective and efficient way for their community. One agency in a rural area may focus on facilitating access to reliable transportation for low-income people to get to work, while another agency in an urban center may prioritize community gardening so that needy residents have access to nutritious food. Among federal and state funding sources, block grants like CSBG are crucial for the simple reason that they provide needed choice in program allocations. They are the locally-driven answer to “one-size-fits-all” funding.

Administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CSGB funds are distributed to states who must allocate at least 90 percent of those funds to local "eligible entities," usually Community Action Agencies (CAAs). Learn more about CAAs here.

History of CSBG

CSBG is the main source of federal funding for Community Action in the United States. Currently it provides $680 million to more than a thousand CAAs across the country, allowing individuals and families to meet their basic needs, educate themselves, achieve self-sufficiency and improve their communities in the ways make the most sense. One of the key advantages to block grants like CSBG is that the funding is flexible, so the people who know an area best—people who live, work and raise their families there—decide what’s needed most.

Funds are allocated to all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, federal and state-recognized Indian tribes and tribal organizations, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Territories. Members of Congress determine how much money goes to each grantee based on its share of the population with incomes below the Federal Poverty Guideline. Once the allocation reaches each state, at least 90% of it is given to locally-controlled organizations, primarily CAAs, in order to create opportunities for those Americans with the lowest household incomes. Specifically, programming is targeted toward people making 125% or less of the Federal Poverty Guideline (in most states, this means a family of four trying to live on $27,938 or less).

Click HERE to see the full law.

State Oversight

Agency, local and state officials work together on a performance initiative called Results Oriented Management and Accountability, or ROMA. Created by a national task force in 1994, ROMA provides resources and reporting for CAAs to provide the most efficient service to their communities while maintaining the highest level of accountability and management oversight.

States are responsible for monitoring fiscal and program performance and for providing technical assistance to local agencies. States are also responsible for maintaining the information systems that track CSBG funding uses and their outcomes.

Grantees may use up to 5% of these funds for administrative costs and up to 5% for state-initiated projects to alleviate the causes of poverty.  State offices are responsible for working with the local eligible entities to prepare annual plans which describe how the requirements and purposes of the Act will be implemented by the local CSBG-funded agencies.

Statutory requirements:

All CAAs receiving CSBG funds must:

  • Be governed by a community-selected board consisting of one-third elected public officials and at least one-third representatives of the low-income community, with the balance drawn from leaders in the private sector including businesses, faith-based groups, charities and civic organizations. This “tripartite” board governance is a feature unique to Community Action; it results in plans and approaches that bring unconventional combinations of skill-sets together to solve local problems, and it empowers those who have direct experience of the barriers to economic security to participate directly in the development of effective alternatives;
  • Assess the economic and social needs of the community and serve as a principal source of information and advocacy relating to poverty-reduction;
  • Develop strategies for increasing economic opportunity and security for the community and its low-income residents; and
  • Mobilize and coordinate the resources and partnerships that can carry out those strategies.