Budget Proposal Would Eliminate Program Protecting Children

Lost in coverage of the Trump Administration’s budget proposal is its elimination of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) which provides necessary assistance to maltreated and foster children as well as low-income families seeking economic self-sufficiency.

The recent release of Trump’s budget proposal produced major backlash from child advocates, as it slashes crucial programs millions of children rely on for food, housing, and healthcare [1]. These cuts would be devastating for at-risk children in the U.S.. However, amidst the well-warranted backlash to Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP, and TANF cuts, the budget’s proposed elimination of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) has flown largely under the radar.

The SSBG consists of grants given to states to be used wherever deemed necessary in order to help low-income individuals and families achieve or maintain economic self-sufficiency. The grant money does so by providing child care assistance, preventing and remedying neglect and abuse, and improving and securing institutional care for those in need. About 28 million people a year, almost half of whom are children, benefit from SSBG-funded programs [2]. SSBG funds are also used to provide disaster relief, and have previously aided victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. In FY 2014, the latest year for which data is available, the largest areas of SSBG spending were foster care, child protective services, and child care [3].

These services are crucial to protecting the most vulnerable children in our society. In 2015, approximately 683,000 children, more than the entire population of Washington, D.C., were victims of maltreatment, and 1,760 children died from abuse and neglect [4]. Children in foster care are much more likely to face poverty, family dysfunction, neglect, and abuse that result in high rates of chronic health, emotional, and developmental problems. The SSBG makes it possible for children to receive in-home services so they can stay with their families, counseling for kids and their parents, therapy and support services for those with disabilities, and more crucial programs. Children need more protections from abuse and neglect, and eliminating the SSBG could cause irreparable harm to millions of vulnerable kids in need.

Trump has stated that “child care is such a big problem… we’re going to solve that problem,” and for good reason. All available parents work in nearly 60% of families with children under the age of 6, yet on average, child care is more expensive than in-state college tuition in the U.S. [5]. The SSBG provides millions in funding for child care, allowing parents to stay in the workforce or educational programs and off of dependency on other government funding. Furthermore, the kids who benefit from this aspect of the SSBG receive the benefits that come with quality child care including improved outcomes in high school completion, employment, and earnings, and decreased levels of crime and diet-related disease, creating high economic returns on initial investments. Eliminating the SSBG would leave more of the millions of parents searching for childcare solutions without answers.

The administration justifies cutting the SSBG by claiming that “it lacks strong performance measures, is not well targeted, and is not a core function of the Federal Government… SSBG funds services that are also funded through other Federal programs, such as early childhood education services funded through Head Start and child welfare services funded by Title IV-E programs.” However, studies have found that receiving the counseling and support services provided through SSBG funding leads to better behavior, mental health, and educational performance in children [6]. In addition, child and adult protective services help prevent abuse and exploitation, and the many benefits of quality child care are well-documented [7]. Despite criticizing the targeting of the SSBG, the budget converts other social service programs into block grants, and previous rhetoric from Trump and Mulvaney implies they believe that local control of spending is preferable. Furthermore, the proposed budget inadequately funds the other federal programs it cites as addressing the SSBG’s goals. It cuts TANF funding by 1.2 billion, while maintaining funding levels for important child welfare programs including Head Start and the Child Care and Development Fund, which already fall well short of fulfilling the needs of America’s children; only 15% of all children eligible for federal child care subsidies receive them in an average month [8]. States would be hard-pressed to fill the gap eliminating the SSBG would create.

In his inauguration speech, Trump promised that ”the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” Perhaps no group of Americans is more forgotten than neglected children. Current funding levels fall far short of what is needed to prevent child abuse and support its victims, and to make child care accessible and affordable to low-income and middle-class Americans. Eliminating the SSBG would further exacerbate these problems. We must act to ensure that the final budget protects funding for the SSBG and other programs helping children in need rather than slashing them.


Steven Jessen-Howard



End Notes

1- “A New Foundation for American Greatness.” 2017. https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/budget/fy2018/budget.pdf

2- Pavetti, Laddona, Floyd, Ife. “Eliminating Social Services Block Grant Would Weaken Services for Vulnerable Children, Adults, and Disabled.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, April 18, 2016. https://www.cbpp.org/research/eliminating-social-services-block-grant-would-weaken-services-for-vulnerable-children#_ftn3

3- “SSBG Fact Sheet.” U.S. Office of Community Services, March 29, 2017. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ocs/resource/ssbg-fact-sheet

4- “Child Abuse and Neglect.” Children’s Rights, 2015. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ocs/resource/ssbg-fact-sheet

5- Sahadi, Jeanne. “Child care now costs more than in-state college tuition.” CNN Money September 28,2016. http://money.cnn.com/2016/09/28/pf/child-care-costs/

6- Murphey, David et. al. “Are the Children  Well?: A Model and Recommendations for Promoting the Mental Wellness of the Nation’s Young People.” Child Trends, July, 2014. https://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/2014-33AreChildrenWellRWJF.pdf

7- Fox, Maggie. “Study shows consistent benefit of early daycare.” Reuters, May 14, 2010. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-daycare-usa-idUSTRE64D0LT20100514

8- Dastur, Nina et. al. “Building the Caring Economy.” Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, 2017. http://www.georgetownpoverty.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Building-the-caring-economy_exec-summary_hi-res.pdf