Human Services Federal Issues Overview

Human Services Federal Issues Overview

States are partners with the federal government in programs that serve vulnerable populations and populations with special needs. These include low-income families and children, the elderly, children at risk of abuse or neglect, children in the child welfare system, children in child care or early education settings, refugees, and immigrants. Changes in federal law, regulations and budgets affect state services in these areas.

NCSL lobbies on federal actions based on policy positions adopted by the Conference. NCSL Human Services and Welfare Committee governs the policymaking process for human services issues. A high degree of unanimity is required-three quarters of the states must agree at every step of the policy process- and this means that NCSL speaks with a strong voice in Washington. NCSL uses its influence in Washington to remind the federal government that it must maintain its financial commitment so that vital services can be delivered and that changes in federal programs have state impacts that must be considered. This is a job that involves both NCSL staff and state legislators and legislative staff. NCSL federal human services staff track federal legislation and regulations in many different areas: income security programs, including welfare reform reauthorization; other human services programs including child care, nutrition assistance and the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG or Title XX); and assistance to immigrants and refugees.

To see NCSL's lobbying correspondence and testimony before Congress on various issues delivered by state legislators representing NCSL, go to Testimony and Correspondence. Bill Analyses and Alerts will give you detail about particular pieces of legislation. The best way to stay informed about what's happening in the nation's capital and how it will affect your state is to join the Human Services List Serve. If you are a legislator or legislative staffer, go to Join List Serve, and you will receive information alerts or action alerts when bills are moving in Washington.

Federal Hot Topics

  • Welfare Reform Reauthorization:

The federal law that established the TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) Program and made changes in a number of related programs such s child support and child care, was scheduled to be reauthorized by October 1, 2002. Congress has been unable to agree on welfare reform legislation, and TANF and related programs have been extended five times. The current extension lasts through March 31, 2004. The House passed reauthorization legislation in February of 2003, and the Senate Finance Committee acted in September, but floor action in the Senate and conference with the House still must happen. A further extension is also possible. Either an extension or completion of reauthorization legislation must be occur before March 31 for TANF and related programs to continue. The welfare reform reauthorization page has more information.

  • The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG or Title XX):

This an important bock grant that goes to provide home and community based services for the elderly, abused and neglected children, low-income families, and the disabled. In the 1996 welfare reform law, the Social Services Block Grant was reduced from $2.8 billion to $2.38 billion for FYs 1996-2003, with the understanding that the funding level would return to $2.8 billion. Instead, Congress subsequently reduced funding to $1.7 billion.

The Senate-passed version of the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act (S. 476) includes an increase in FY 2003 to $1.9 billion and in FY 2004 to $2.8 billion from the current level of $1.7 billion. The House version of the CARE Act (H.R. 7) includes a permanent restoration of states' ability to transfer 10% of their TANF funds in the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), but it does not contain additional SSBG funding. So far a conference on the CARE Act has not occurred, but there are ongoing discussions aimed at reaching a compromise. The CARE Act represents a critical opportunity in the upcoming second session of the 108th Congress to get an increase in social services funding.

For additional information on federal human services issues, contact NCSL staff in the D.C. office. Sheri Steisel and Lee Posey can be reached at 202.624.5400. or by e-mail at

NCSL also tracks information about state actions in such human services areas as child care early and education, child support and family law, child welfare, welfare reform, and youth. If you have a question about state actions, please contact Judith McAllister at 303.364.7700 or by e-mail at and she will connect you with the appropriate NCSL staff member.

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