Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2008

SJR 223: Joint Subcommittee on Block Grants

August 19, 2008

The Joint Subcommittee on Block Grants held its biennial public hearing on the Community Services Block Grant federal application with Senator Charles Colgan as chair. The joint subcommittee was established in 1993 as a mechanism for holding legislative hearings on applications for federal block grants, as necessary. For at least 20 years, certain federal legislation required that legislative public hearings be held on certain block grants. In Virginia, a Joint Subcommittee on Block Grants has, since 1982, held one inclusive hearing subsuming the grants requiring "legislative" public hearings, as needed on an annual or, currently, biennial basis. For some years, three different grants required legislative public hearings; however, since 1993, the Community Services Block Grant has been the joint subcommittee's only responsibility.

The Community Services Block Grant is administered by the Department of Social Services and is submitted as a narrative plan in compliance with Title VI, Subtitle B, of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, as amended by various provisions, including the 1998 Community Action Block Grant Act (42 U.S.C. 9901 et seq.).

On a daily basis, Virginia's community action agencies or CAAs provide a wide range of programs for low-income people designed to assist them in becoming self-sufficient, including:

  • Job training and skills development
  • Micro-enterprises
  • Childcare
  • Head Start programs
  • Motivation for young people to attend college and adult literacy and GED
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Homeless services
  • Emergency services
  • Water and waste water facility development

The chairman reminded the joint subcommittee that the purpose of the meeting was to hear from residents who have benefited from the Community Services Block Grant funds in order for the members to vote on approval of the Department of Social Services state plan for the next two-year grant cycle. Staff also provided a brief history of the Joint Subcommittee on Block Grants.


Jack Frazier, Director of Community and Volunteer Services, Dept of Social Services
Jack Frazier explained that the state plan details how the department allocated the block grant funds among the 26 local community action agencies and three statewide nonprofit organizations, as well as what types of programs are offered through these agencies. He also told the joint subcommittee that at this time the exact amount of the federal allocation is uncertain, but if it remains at last year's level the total contract amount from the department to the agencies will be just over $16 million—a combination of federal block grant funds, state funds, and federal TANF, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, funds. The agencies have a total budget of $135 million and serve over 100,000 people in Virginia.

Mr. Frazier mentioned that the Commonwealth is unique in administration of the block grant funds. Most states have one state agency that administers the grant, whereas Virginia administers it through a cooperative effort between local community action agencies, the Virginia Community Action Partnership, or VACAP, and the state agency. He explained how these groups work together, using the recent earned income tax credit initiative as an example, and stated how this is one of the most successful partnerships in the country.

Jim Schuyler, Executive Director, Virginia Community Action Partnership
Jim Schuyler of VACAP emphasized both the state/local partnership and the public/private partnerships involved in administering grant programs. He said that one of his main concerns is that there are jurisdictions in Virginia that are not being served. Virginia is currently one of only three states without statewide coverage. Expanding coverage to unserved areas of the Commonwealth is now a main focus of the organization. Mr. Schuyler mentioned that it is the 40th anniversary of the community action network, and he urged the joint subcommittee to approve the state plan so that the network can continue its important mission.

Public Comment

The joint subcommittee heard from several speakers who have been helped by community action agencies.

The first speaker, an elderly woman who is a participant in the Richmond Community Action Program's East Senior Center, gave a moving presentation about how outreach workers came to her apartment after she had gone blind and no longer wanted to live. They assisted her in getting a cane and training, so she could venture out in public again. She then became very active in the center and found new meaning in life. She spoke appreciatively of all the activities offered and said that without the center she would probably be in a nursing home. The members were very moved and expressed their thanks for a heartfelt presentation.

Mr. Ayers of the Board of Directors of Project Discovery in Salem, an the anti drop-out program, spoke about the program’s successes. He explained that the program works with 4th through 12th graders, trying to get them through school and on to higher education. The program assists students in researching colleges, applying for financial aid, setting goals, life planning, and learning study skills. The program also involves students in community service projects. In 2007 the program had 446 high school graduates, of which 88% went on to postsecondary schools, 10% entered the workforce, 1% went into the military, and 1% fell into the "other" category.

Anthony West, Program/Training Director of the Virginia Community Action Re-Entry System, spoke next on the only statewide pre- and post-incarceration program. Mr. West emphasized the organization's role in increasing public safety by reducing prisoner recidivism rates. He spoke about using prerelease services to change the mindsets of prisoners, in order to prevent them from returning to the same people and places that led to their original arrests. The postrelease services, which include employment assistance, food and clothing, peer support, substance abuse treatment, and individual case-management offer people a chance to follow through on prerelease plans and start anew.

Next was a citizen from Northern Virginia who came to ask the subcommittee to consider using block grant funds to provide housing services to homeless veterans. He explained that he became aware of this need through personal research for a master's degree and asked the joint subcommittee's help in funding services. The members agreed that this was an important issue, and the chairman made a motion to ask the Department of Social Services to further examine this need to see if the block grant funds could be used for this purpose. Senator Martin then amended the motion to also ask the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees to also look into this important issue. The motion passed unanimously.

Mary Terry, President of the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, Inc., spoke about recent budget cuts and how the cuts have affected the services offered, including the wastewater and safe drinking water program, which helps people to install indoor plumbing where it is currently lacking.

After the public hearing, the joint subcommittee members discussed the variety of programs supported by the Community Services Block Grant. The joint subcommittee voted unanimously to endorse the current block grant application.

The Hon. Charles Colgan

For information, contact:
Jessica Eades, DLS Staff

Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2008

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