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Testimony on Reauthorization of the Community Block Grant Program by Don Sykes
Director, Office of Community Services
Administration for Children and Families
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Before the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Subcommittee on Children and Families
May 5, 1998

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, thank you for providing the opportunity for me to testify today about reauthorization of the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program. I'd like to thank the Committee for its leadership on this program and the bipartisan support that CSBG has enjoyed. I have been Director of the Office of Community Services (OCS) since 1993, and prior to that, I was a Community Action Executive Director for more than 20 years. I have spent over thirty years working with the community action network at the Federal and local level. During these thirty years, I have been involved with the issues facing America's workforce.

I am here today to represent the Administration's strong support for a four-year reauthorization of this important program at such sums as may be necessary. We are not proposing any statutory changes to the program because we believe the current CSBG statute is fundamentally sound and provides the foundations for the community services network to respond to new and expanding challenges in the future. It provides flexibility to meet the unique needs of individual communities and works in concert with other programs, emphasizing Federal, State, and local public and private partnerships.

Through the CSBG program, we provide funding to states, territories, Indian tribes and tribal organizations, universities, and other non-profit groups to assist low-income people in local communities to attain and retain self-sufficiency. These CSBG funds are used primarily to meet employment, education, housing, energy, health, and emergency needs of the poor - all services fundamental to helping low-income persons gain economic security and self-sufficiency.

The vast majority of CSBG funds are allocated through the States to approximately 950 locally controlled Community Action Agencies (CAAs). These local agencies serve 96 percent of the nation's counties and have three decades of experience in addressing the problems of low-income communities. Local level decisionmaking is a unique aspect of the program and we believe it is one of the essential and most beneficial aspects of the program. CAAs involve and employ members of the community in developing, directing and operating the programs.

In 1995, about 11.5 million people benefited from Community Action Agency activities. Half of the clients served had incomes below 75 percent of the poverty level, but less than one-fourth were on welfare. Sixty-one percent of the families assisted had children and 59 percent of those families were headed by a single parent.

The CSBG program recognizes that healthy communities draw strength from all of their stakeholders - neighborhoods, schools, churches, businesses, government agencies, clubs and associations and, above all, the committed citizens of the community. A community cannot resolve its problems if all of the stakeholders are not working together to develop individual and shared solutions. Elected local public officials, representatives of the low income community, and appointed business, clergy and civic leaders comprise a tripartite board empowering low-income people to participate in the policy making, design, and implementation of programs to respond to the community's poverty problems.

The CSBG program is uniquely designed to meet the need for integrated problem-solving. It supports core operations and, in many cases, direct services of CAAs in a vast community service network. To focus and concentrate their resources on those areas where action is most critical, CAAs perform community needs assessments. The assessments allow these local agencies to mobilize resources, to plan and integrate programs and donations, and to meet community needs, especially those of low-income individuals and families. In FY 1998, State and local officials will use CSBG funds to produce more than $5 billion in coordinated services. Of that, approximately $2 billion will come from State appropriations, local governments and private sources.

Throughout the country, community action agencies provide a wide range of successful locally-designed services coordinated with multiple Federal programs, thereby ensuring closer coordination among programs. For example, the Wabash Valley Human Services CAA in the State of Indiana contracts and coordinates with more than 30 different faith-based organizations, Section 8 Housing, W I C, Weatherization, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Family Preservation, Healthy Families, Head Start and many other programs to expand the services of this community. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the CAA Action for Bridgeport Community Development, Inc., makes economic development a priority. It has been successful in coordinating economic development efforts with other service providers in the community. In Stevens Point, Wisconsin, CAP Services, which primarily serves a rural population, provides a wide variety of services including new business ventures, housing rehabilitation, family literacy, job skills training, family violence prevention services, nutrition, transportation, child care and several other programs which assist families to become self-sufficient and to reinforce the role of parents as primary educators of their children.

In a natural disaster or emergency, CAAs often are the first place people turn to seek assistance. In 1995, $69 million or 22 percent of CSBG funds allocated to CAAs was used for emergency services. CAAs help deliver emergency assistance for FEMA. For example, CAAs provide temporary food, clothing, and shelter to families displaced by fires, floods, and other disasters.

An example demonstrating disaster assistance from the CSBG program was reflected in a 77 year-old widow's loss of her home and most of its contents by flood waters in Missouri. The local CAA located new housing and used FEMA funds to buy basic furnishings. They also arranged for weatherization assistance and utility payment assistance, found clothing from local charities, and made referrals to a local mental health facility where the widow could receive stress counseling for flood victims. The CAA through the CSBG program assistance was able to provide a coordinated package of services to address the critical needs of this widow and many others in the community.

The CSBG program is fundamentally sound, but we are continuing to take steps to improve quality and enhance service delivery and program effectiveness. CAAs are responding dynamically to our quest for increased accountability. Two years ago, OCS established a task force composed of CSBG state directors, CAA directors and relevant association members. The task force and the community services network endorsed a Results-Oriented Management and Accountability (ROMA) strategy consisting of: 1) partnership and flexibility concepts which are integral to network operations; 2) a results-oriented management approach which includes six broad "umbrella" goals that provide a framework for network activities; 3) a menu of outcome-oriented performance measures which leave maximum flexibility at the local level; 4) special implementation tools such as scales, surveys, electronically provided economic and demographic data at the neighborhood level; 5) training and technical assistance plans to ensure timely phasing of the total approach; and 6) reporting compatible with local, state, and federal information needs.

We believe the ROMA system will respond to congressional expectations for increased accountability under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). ROMA focuses on achieving program improvement through real partnerships between Federal, State and local levels, and is a significant step toward greater accountability for the CSBG program and human services programs in general.

The ROMA approach should begin to help agencies identify cost effective strategies for reducing gaps in services, improve the capacity of CAAs to partner with innovative community and neighborhood-based initiatives and help communities better understand the agency's goals and achievements. Timetables for experiencing success from ROMA, which is voluntary, will vary from community to community. Today, 42 states have identified goals and implementation plans for ROMA. We believe that, when implemented, ROMA will greatly improve local program performance, improve State and local partnerships and build greater measures of accountability for the CSBG program. The community services network is responding enthusiastically to the ROMA process.

In summary, the existing CSBG statute provides critical support and funding to communities throughout the nation. With a four-year reauthorization, we can continue our efforts to work with States and communities to improve the program and strengthen accountability. We look forward to working with the Committee as it pursues reauthorization legislation for the CSBG program. I would be happy to answer any questions.

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