Community Service Block Grants - Program Criteria for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocates $1 billion to the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program.  The funds, administered by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are distributed, via formula, to states.  The program has existed since 1981 and is designed to provide services and activities to combat the central causes of poverty including unemployment, education, financial literacy, inadequate housing, poor nutrition, and limited emergency services.  New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is designated to administer the CSBG program in the state.  Traditional funding fluctuates, but in 2008 the state received $17.8 million.  The Recovery Act funding constitutes a significant increase in funding to the program.  Under the Act, New Jersey will receive an additional $27,391,962.

In accordance with federal guidelines, the New Jersey DCA acts as a pass-through for the CSBG funds in the state.  The DCA is mandated to allocate 99% of the CSBG funds to the state’s qualified Community Action Agencies (CAAs).  The Community Action Agencies, chosen through a competitive process, use their share of the funds to administer programs locally.  The remaining 1% of funds must be used to coordinate statewide efforts to ensure that services are comprehensive, effective, and not duplicative.  The DCA’s primary role in the process is to approve CAAs’ CSBG programs and monitor their implementation.

CSBG Program Goals
The federal CSBG program permits each CAA to determine its own use of funds. The CAAs’ plans are determined by an elected tripartite board consisting of local officials, private citizens, and members of the community that programs serve. The federal government only requires that programs adhere to the broad goals outlined below:

Goal 1: Benefits Enrollment Coordination
Administer a service delivery system for benefit enrollment coordination activities for the purpose of identifying and enrolling individuals and families in federal, state, and local benefit programs.

Goal 2: Self Sufficiency
Provide direction and services that increase the number of individuals who become self-sufficient

.Goal 3: Improve Community Conditions
Facilitate improvement of the conditions in which low-income people live.

Goal 4: Collaboration
Provide direction and resources that increase collaboration among other community-based providers, state agencies, and local and county governments

.Goal 5: Data Collection and AnalysisStrengthen organizations’ ability to collect and analyze data and to use that information for the purposes of strengthening and improving programs and achieving measurable outcomes.

Goal 6: Needs Assessment/Capacity Building
Increase, develop, and strengthen programs and services that address the problems identified in the communities’ needs assessments. In anticipation of the Recovery

Act CSBG funds, the DCA requested needs assessments from all Community Action Agencies for the Fiscal Year 2009-2010.
Allocation of Funds
Per federal guidelines, the DCA is required to allocate 99% of the CSBG Recovery Act funds to the Community Action Agencies (CAAs) or Limited Purpose Agencies.  The DCA will appropriate this portion of the CSBG Recovery Act funds via formula (see Appendix A).  Each qualified CAA will receive a percentage of funds based upon its share of the population with income below 125% of poverty level that reside in their geographic service area.  For example, if a particular CAA’s service area contains 5% of New Jersey’s population below 125% of poverty, they will receive 5% of the Recovery Act funds.  However, if this formula results in the loss of funding to a particular CAA compared to their 2008 allocation, that agency will receive additional funding in order to hold their funding level at the 2008 level. 

Funds distributed to the CAAs will be dispersed in 2 stages.  Initially, CAAs will receive 35% of their total Recovery Act allocation.  This money will be used to put in place mechanisms to administer the additional programs that CAAs will be providing with Recovery Act dollars and to begin those services.  The remaining 65% of funds will be distributed by DCA to CAAs as reimbursements for services rendered.  This reimbursement process is monitored through DCA’s System for Administering Grants Electronically (SAGE).
 
The qualified Community Action Agency network for CSBG in New Jersey consists of 23 Community Action Agencies and 2 Limited Purpose Agencies (LPA).  These agencies are chosen on a competitive basis and monitored through site visits, regular audits, and fiscal reporting requirements.  Agencies designated as recipients of CSBG awards receive funds annually through the program unless the DCA, through its monitoring process, deems it necessary to eliminate funding to a particular agency1.  A more extensive discussion of oversight mechanisms is included later in the document.

The Recovery Act requires the remaining 1% of the funds, $273,920, to be utilized for benefit enrollment coordination by the state.  The DCA will contract with the New Jersey Community Action Agency (NJCAA), the statewide association, to administer the service delivery system for benefit enrollment coordination activities.  NJCAA will receive the funds in order to provide CAAs with training, technical assistance, and instruction on benefit screening tools. The most recent benefits screening tools, which pertain to such areas as health care, food stamps, child care assistance, and tax credit benefit programs, will be outlined to CAA staff so that they can better serve clients.

Benefit Programs
The DCA requested community needs assessment plans from all CAAs for the FY 2009-2010 CSBG Recovery Act Program. In accordance with federal guidelines, each agency’s tripartite board selected programs which they determined will further combat the causes of poverty in their service area. Below is a sample of programs that New Jersey’s CAAs will provide using Recovery Act CSBG funds.

Employment

  • A job developer will facilitate progression along career pathways by placement in basic education classes, job training courses, part or full time employment, apprenticeships, internships, post-secondary education, and/or services with specially-funded work programs.
  • On the job training for individuals interested in the childcare profession will be provided in an early childhood setting.
  • A new job training facility will be created where low-income individuals will be hired and trained in each of three planned 3-month construction training programs in areas of painting, drywall, landscaping, cement/masonry, and flooring installation.
  • A medical billing program that is designed as a hands-on training class where participants will receive a medical skills certification.
  • The Skills Enhancements and Job Training Program for unemployed individuals in growth industries, food service, health care, specialized sewing, video production and a combined Chauffeurs Drivers License-auto mechanic program.

Information and Referral

  • The resource and referral program helps provide coordinated service delivery by CAA programs, and establishes linkages between CAA programs and those of other social service agencies to ensure effective service delivery to low-income individuals. This program is especially important because many clients have multiple needs.

Housing Assistance

  • The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program provides a one-time rental assistance payment not to exceed $1,000 per low-income individual or family at risk of homelessness who are behind at least three months in their rent.
  • The Entrepreneurship Housing Program provides low-income individuals with rental subsidies that will allow for savings within a one year period in order to provide seed money to start a small business.
  • The Homeless Prevention Outreach and Financial Assistance Program will work with individuals at or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines that are at risk of or experiencing a housing crisis.
  • The Rental Assistance Program will help eligible clients avoid eviction and prevent homelessness.
  • Comprehensive housing counseling will be provided to low-income individuals and families with housing issues.

Individual Development Account Programs and Financial Literacy

  • The Client Financial Education and Credit Counseling program will educate individuals in sound financial principles and assist in the process and strategy of improving their credit score in order to overcome indebtedness.
  • The Individual Development Account (IDA) Program-Match Dollars and Case Management is a savings program that provides the opportunity for individuals and families to achieve greater self sufficiency and economic stability through owning a home, starting or expanding a business or educational assistance. The annual savings cap is $2,000 dollars. Eligible participants agree to save $25 to $160 per month and agree to attend 16 hours of financial education and counseling in order to receive a 2:1 match. Participants will receive individualized case management, economic educational courses and business and technical planning assistance. Participants can also use their match savings for automobile and home repair and rehabilitation.

Nutrition and Food

  • The Nutritional Food Expansion program will purchase fresh fruit and nutritional meals for children that attend the Summer Feeding Program and will also purchase fresh fruit and nutritional items for the Backpack Program during the school year.
  • The Urban Farm and Community Kitchen programs will provide fresh produce for low-income residents. In addition, a community kitchen will be operated that will distribute nutritious foods and hold classes on food preservation to help facilitate food preservation.
  • The Community Nutrition Program will provide nutritious meals to low-income individuals, their families and the elderly. The services will be offered to children who are eligible for free lunch but are unable to access that program during the summer months. A nutrition specialist will provide nutrition education and counseling. The program will also include workshops for children where they will have the ability to participate in exercises and physical activity.

Healthcare Services

  • Healthcare Services will be provided to low-income and/or homeless individuals and families. They will be able to receive free and/or affordable prescriptions and access to free and/or affordable healthcare services.

Partnerships

  • Organizations and agencies, both public and private, will become involved in agreements to expand the resources and provide assistance to clients of the agency in their efforts to improve the delivery of services to their constituents.

Internal Capacity Building

  • Agencies will identify appropriate, realistic strategies to develop better management practices and diverse financial resources in order to increase an organization's sustainability and effectiveness, enhance its ability to provide social services, and create collaborations to better serve those in need.

A breakdown of the estimated number of clients served by each program area is included in Appendix B [pdf 84kB].

Program Monitoring
The DCA’s primary purpose as the state grant provider for CSBGs is to assist CAAs in using their grants efficiently and in accordance with federal guidelines. A central means of achieving this goal is its System for Administering Grants Electronically (SAGE).

The DCA requires all CSBG applicants to apply via the System for Administering Grants Electronically (SAGE). SAGE ensures that all applications are submitted in a uniform manner. After a grant application is submitted it is reviewed and approved in SAGE by responsible levels within the Department culminating in final approval by the Commissioner.

After an application is approved, SAGE generates an award letter and Grant Agreement. SAGE also assists the CSBG program in managing grants through a web-based program reporting and fiscal reporting system. While funds are committed by execution of the Grant Agreement, funds cannot be disbursed unless satisfactory program and fiscal reports are submitted through SAGE. Each grantee must submit Financial Status Reports (FSR) via SAGE which details the uses of the funds and connects the requested funds to a line item in the grantee’s budget that was initially submitted as part of the application, and which is incorporated into the Grant Agreement. All disbursements must be supported by documentation showing the Grantee has actually incurred eligible expenses.

In addition to the monitoring through SAGE, DCA staff conduct regular site visits to ensure that contractual obligations are being fulfilled, programmatic goals are being achieved, and that services are being provided in a timely, efficient, and effective manner. An auditing firm currently under contract with the State of New Jersey also provides fiscal and program monitoring support. These audits are performed at least once every three years. A listing of the most recent audit completed for each CAA is included in Appendix C [pdf 20kB].


1Prior to the passage of the Recovery Act, the DCA recognized the need for a capable CAA to provide services in Middlesex County.  The DCA issued a request for proposals for eligible agencies to provide services under the CSBG program for Middlesex County on January 16, 2009 and received seven proposals.  Proposal review is complete and the Department is in the final stage of selection.