Want to Slash Anti-Poverty Programs? Turn Them Into Block Grants.

Jun 7, 2016

In their new “Better Way” proposal on poverty and welfare, Republicans call for “increasing local control and flexibility.” But it’s clear that they’re just using new words to dress up an old, bad idea: turning federal anti-poverty programs into block grants.

Just like the block grants proposed by Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Speaker Newt Gingrich, both Presidents Bush, and House Republicans, the real flexibility Republicans are seeking is flexibility to cut programs that fight poverty.  And history has shown that the way benefits get “repackaged” under block grants is to remove the actual help from the box before wrapping it. 



Step 1: Republicans call for block grants to promote state flexibility and innovation.

Step 2: States use the block grant funding for a variety of purposes, including some that are unintended.

Step 3: Funding does not keep pace with inflation, and many states stop innovating and start cutting the help that is available to families.

Step 4: Republicans call for cuts to the block grant because states are using it for a variety of purposes, so it becomes a “slush fund.”



1981: The House unanimously and the Senate with more than three-fourths of Members voting ‘yes’ passed legislation to create the Social Services Block Grant, a source of flexible funding for social services, and it was signed into law by President Reagan.

1996-1998: The Social Services Block Grant is cut to offset the cost of other legislation.

2011: The Social Services Block Grant is subjected to annual “sequestration” cuts under the Budget Control Act.

2012: House Republicans propose to eliminate the Social Services Block Grant. In a press release, Ways and Means Republicans describe the flexible fund as a “slush fund” because states use it for a variety of different needs.

2016: Ways and Means Republicans try again to eliminate the Social Services Block Grant, passing H.R. 4724 in Committee.


1974: The Senate unanimously and the House on a vote of 377-21 voted to combine eight programs that provided grants for specific kinds of community development into one flexible “Community Development Block Grant.” It was signed into law by President Gerald Ford.

2005: President George W. Bush proposes to eliminate CDBG, calling it “duplicative,” and create a much smaller and less flexible program at the Department of Commerce.

2005-2008: CDBG is cut by more than $500 million annually.

2016: In real terms, CDBG funding is less than half of what it was in 1998.

Prepared by Democratic Staff, House Committee on Ways and Means


114th Congress