A block grant is a specific type of federal financial assistance for a broadly defined function. Before getting into the nuance of block grants, it may be helpful to know what we mean by the terms “federal financial assistance” and “grant.”
Block grants are primarily awarded by the federal government to U.S. state or territory governments, although some block grants are awarded directly to local governments (e.g., Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Entitlement Program to cities and counties on a formula basis). The block grant recipients then implement the programs within those broadly defined functions (i.e., the purpose & parameters defined by legislation).
“Broadly defined” is relative to other types of grants, such as a discretionary grants, which often have much more specific and focused rules for how the grant program can be implemented.
Block grants are distinct from discretionary grants because they generally allow for more autonomy and flexibility to the states to decide how to implement the program. States may use the block grant funding to establish a program or to make sub-awards to local organizations to provide the services within their region. As long as the legislatively defined purpose and parameters are met, the primary block grant recipients may elect how to utilize the funding.
Examples of Block Grant Programs
The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) is open until June 7th and expects to award approximately $60.6 million in grant funding.
The purpose of the SCBGP “is to solely enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops,” such as fruits and vegetables (Department of Agriculture (USDA)). Only the entities responsible for agriculture within the 50 states and U.S. territories are eligible to apply for these grants.
The Preventive Health and Health Services (PHHS) Block Grant is managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This program supports local, innovative solutions to public health needs. Here is an example of a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for this block grant for states and territories to apply.
The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) from the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the CDBG, are two of the longest standing U.S. block grant programs.
The SSBG is a flexible block grant to U.S. states and territories; the primary recipients decide which services to provide and who is eligible for the social services. Main goals of the SSBG include helping beneficiaries to increase self-sufficiency and protect people from abuse and neglect.
How Do Block Grants Help Me?
An important distinction to remember with block grants is the difference in “eligibility” for applicants and “eligibility” for beneficiaries. On Grants.gov, the funding opportunities are primarily for organizations to use the grant funding to then implement a program or conduct research. Applicant eligibility refers to those organizations that are able to apply to the federal agency to receive the program funding.
For block grants, the applicants are primarily U.S. states, territories, and local government entities. Once they receive a block grant, then they utilize the funding to implement the program to provide benefits and services to people who are eligible to receive them. This is the beneficiary eligibility.
This means local and regional organizations, such as a nonprofit organization or a local government office, may receive pass-through funds to implement the program to its residents. So, while the federal government does not directly provide the services in this case, you may be eligible to receive the benefits of a block grant without knowing its initial source.
If you are searching for personal assistance or benefits that may be supported by one of the block grants described above, you should search on your state and local governments’ websites as well as nonprofit organizations operating in your area. You may also search on Benefits.gov for personal federal assistance.
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