Office of Community Services
330 C Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20201
(202) 401-9333 Phone
(202) 401-4694 Fax
The Office of Community Services (OCS) works in partnership with states, Tribes, territories and community-based organizations to provide a range of human and community development services and activities that address the causes and conditions of poverty and otherwise assist persons in need. The aim of these services and activities is to increase the capacity of individuals and families to become self-sufficient, to revitalize communities, and to build the stability and capacity of children, youth and families, so that they become able to create their own opportunities.
OCS programs can be linked back to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. The Office of Economic Opportunity was the agency responsible for administering most of the War on Poverty programs— including VISTA, Job Corps, Head Start, Legal Services, and the Community Action Program. Our social service and community development programs work in a variety of ways to improve the lives of many.
OCS programs’ major goals:
- Promote economic opportunity and mobility, for example through Community Services Block Grant’s national network of Community Action Agencies and Assets for Independence’s efforts to further access to financial empowerment
- Assist Community Development Corporations and Community Action Agencies in leveraging existing federal, state and local resources for neighborhood revitalization activities
- Provide financial and technical resources to state, local, public and private agencies for community development and related social service support activities
- Provide energy assistance to low-income households
- Provide matching funds for purchasing a first home, capitalizing a business or finishing secondary education via an Individual Development Account
- Assist each state or territory in meeting the needs of its residents through locally relevant social services
With a budget of approximately $6 billion, OCS disburses block and discretionary grants to states, Tribes, territories and a network of community-based and faith-based organizations. OCS is comprised of four programmatic divisions: the Divisions of State Assistance, Community Discretionary Programs, Community Demonstration Programs, and Energy Assistance.
Division of State Assistance
- Community Services Block Grant (CSBG): This is a mandatory formula grant to 50 States, the District of Columbia, 5 Territories, and 61 Native American tribes. Grant recipients work to lessen the causes of poverty at the community and individual levels. Grant recipients use a comprehensive approach when pursuing community revitalization efforts and when providing emergency health, food, housing, and employment-related assistance. CSBG was funded at $674 million in fiscal year 2015 funds.
- Social Services Block Grant (SSBG): SSBG provides funds to 50 States, the District of Columbia, and 5 Territories and insular areas for the provision of social services directed towards achieving economic self-sufficiency, preventing neglect, abuse, or the exploitation of children and adults, preventing or reducing inappropriate institutionalization, and securing referrals for institutional care. Funded at approximately $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2015 in regular block grant funds, each state has the flexibility to determine what services will be provided and then either provides services directly or purchase them from qualified providers. In fiscal year 2013, selected states also received a supplemental amount totaling $475 million in response to Hurricane Sandy. These states included: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
Division of Community Discretionary Programs
- Community Economic Development (CED): CED discretionary grants are awarded to nonprofit Community Development Corporations in disinvested communities for purposes of creating new jobs for low-income individuals, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients. These grants serve as catalysts for attracting additional private and public dollars – for every CED dollar awarded, three-to-five dollars are leveraged. The CED grant funds projects such as: business incubators, shopping centers, manufacturing businesses, and agriculture initiatives. The CED program was appropriated approximately $29.83 million in fiscal year 2015, of which up to $10 million will be used for the Obama Administration’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI). HFFI represents the federal government's first coordinated step to eliminate food deserts in urban and rural areas in the United States — these are areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food. HFFI focuses particularly in areas composed of predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and communities by promoting a wide range of interventions that expand the supply of and demand for nutritious foods, including increasing the distribution of agricultural products, developing and equipping grocery stores, and strengthening the producer-to-consumer relationship. Importantly, HFFI also seeks to support the elimination of food deserts in the context of the broader neighborhood revitalization efforts of a community.
- Rural Community Development (RCD): The RCD program provides discretionary grants, which assist low-income communities in developing affordable, safe drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities. For RCD, approximately $6.5 million was appropriated in fiscal year 2015. Six regional grantees and one tribal grantee provide services to multiple States. The philosophy of the program is to build local capacity so that the facilities will be sustained over the long term. While the program does not pay to construct or upgrade facilities, grantees assist communities in accessing funds for these purposes. This program also funds the Rural Community Development Activities Program/Homeland Security Program, which supports and promotes water and wastewater treatment systems safety through security and emergency preparedness training and technical assistance to small community water and wastewater utility staff and local officials.
Division of Energy Assistance
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): LIHEAP is a block grant program administered by states, territories and Tribes through a network of local community-based organizations. LIHEAP helps keep families safe and healthy by reducing their home energy burden. Fifty states, the District of Columbia, five territories, and approximately 153 Tribes and Tribal Organizations receive LIHEAP grants each year. State and federally recognized Tribes (including Alaska Native villages) may apply for direct LIHEAP funding. In fiscal year 2015, $3.36 billion was appropriated for LIHEAP.
- Leveraging Incentive Program (LIP): The law authorizes supplemental LIHEAP funding for grantees that acquired non-federal leveraged resources for their LIHEAP programs in the preceding fiscal year. In Fiscal Year 2012, ACF awarded $25 million in Leveraging Incentive funds.
- Residential Energy Assistance Challenge Option (REACH) Program: The law authorizes supplemental LIHEAP funding for grantees to receive competitive grants for implementation through local community-based agencies of innovative plans to help LIHEAP eligible households reduce their energy vulnerability. In FY 2012, ACF awarded nearly $1.45 million in REACH grants.
Community Demonstration Programs
- Assets for Independence (AFI): The AFI program is demonstrating and testing the effectiveness of Individual Development Accounts (IDA) as a tool for enabling low-income individuals and families to become financially secure. Participating individuals attend financial empowerment classes tailored to their savings goals. Participants save earned income and receive matching funds in their IDA with the goal of acquiring any of three assets: a first home, a business, or post-secondary education. AFI awards grants and provides training and technical assistance to community-based nonprofits and state, local, and tribal government agencies that implement IDA projects. Congress appropriated approximately $19 million for the program in fiscal year 2015. In a given year, OCS monitors and provides oversight of approximately 300 active grants, which includes an average of 44 new grants each year. The maximum grant amount is $1,000,000 for the five-year period and the average grant amount is approximately $286,000.