Community Services Block Grants: $3.7M Funding Uncertain

Jul 26, 2017

Office of Community Services executive director, Rona Suzuki, testifies before the joint House and Senate Labor Committees.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

A joint legislative committee conducted a hearing on the status of federal funding for impoverished residents throughout the state. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.  

The Community Services Block Grant – CSBG -- was created by Congress in 1964 as part of the War on Poverty.  The state’s Office of Community Services receives $3.7 million in federal funding annually.   OCS executive director, Rona Suzuki, says the state’s application is completed but the funding is uncertain.

“This is one of the programs that is not included in the President’s budget at this point in time.  But this money is important to Hawai’i.  It’s been a steady source of funds to support the low income community more effectively and to support our partner agencies.  If it does not get funded, it’s not pretty.  We will have to reduce services and that’s what’s gonna happen.”

Suzuki says programs differ from island-to-island.  They include social services as well as funding for the Big Island’s Hele-On bus service.

“It’s primarily a county contract but CSBG funds do help support the bus service because not all contracts will necessarily pay for administrative costs and so CSBG funds are more flexible and so we’re able to do different things with this money.”

Tehani Diaz, Honolulu Action Program director of Community Services
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The OCS distributes the federal funds to 4 nonprofit Community Action Agencies in the counties.  The Honolulu Action Program receives more than $2-million each year and employs 300 workers.  Director of Community Services,Tehani Diaz, says federal funding cuts have not been formally announced but the impact would be program-wide.

“We have 5 different district centers, one is in Wai’anae, another one is in Ai’ea, one is on the windward side, we have one in Palolo Valley and then the Kalihi area.  Agency-wide we serve about 20-thousand individuals and families throughout the year.  So it would probably impact the types of programs and services that we are able to provide in the community.”

A joint House and Senate Committee was briefed on the state’s application to the U-S Department of Health and Human Services. 

Senate Labor Committee Chair, Jill Tokuda, says CSBG funds impact tens of thousands of the most vulnerable individuals and families.

“The big concern I have, really, is 5-thousand miles away in Washington DC.  Three-point-seven million may not sound like much in the guise of a $750 million overall budget for the federal program but to Hawai’i, the nonprofits, to the people that they serve on every island, these are serious issues when you look at the potential cut or elimination of funds.”

Tokuda intends to work with OCS and the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to look at ways to minimize the potential impact of federal budget cuts.  Executive Director Suzuki says the OCS and its Community Action partners are also being proactive.

“We’re working with our Congressional Delegation, we’re working with our National Association in order to ensure our continued funding for this program.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.