University of Wisconsin–Madison

OCS Background and NPF Position Description

The National Poverty Fellows in residence at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in Washington, D.C., will work in the Office of Community Services (OCS) and will be assigned to one of OCS’ four programmatic divisions.

OCS advises the Secretary, through the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, on matters relating to community programs to promote economic self-sufficiency. OCS is responsible for administering a range of unique but interrelated anti-poverty programs that serve low-income and vulnerable individuals, children, families, and communities. These programs help to increase economic security for individuals and families with low incomes and revitalize underserved communities. OCS administers four block grant programs and a variety of discretionary grant programs that foster family and community stability, economic security, self-sufficiency, economic mobility, and community assets. OCS works in partnership with states, tribes, territories, and community organizations to provide a range of services and activities through eight programs through four programmatic divisions:

1) Division of Community Assistance (DCA)

  • Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) is administered through states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, U.S. territories, and approximately 66 tribes and tribal organizations. CSBG is a source of federal support that provides services designed to ameliorate the causes and conditions of poverty by assisting low-income individuals, families and communities with services based on local needs, including employment, education, and adequate housing. Through a nationwide network of governmental and locally-based nonprofit service providers, including Community Action Agencies, CSBG plays an integral role in building the capacity of vulnerable individuals and families across the nation.

2) Division of Community Discretionary and Demonstration Programs (DCDDP)

  • Assets for Independence (AFI) strengthens communities from within using matched savings accounts called Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). Through financial education, AFI demonstrates the use and impact of IDAs to help low-income individuals move toward greater self-sufficiency.
  • Community Economic Development (CED) focuses on reducing poverty, through the creation of jobs for individuals with low incomes in communities with high unemployment and poverty rates. See how the CED program is supporting energy communities.
  • Rural Community Development (RCD) focuses on building community capacity for the nation’s unincorporated areas and lowest income communities, including tribal and persistent poverty areas, by creating and maintaining safe and affordable water and wastewater systems. View RCD grantee spotlights that tell the story of how this program fills the gap to ensure safe water and wastewater services for very small, rural, low-income communities that are not addressed by other federal programs.
  • Diaper Distribution Demonstration Research Pilot (DDDRP) focuses on a first time evaluation of social services agencies, and nonprofit community organizations that provide diapers and diapering supplies on a consistent basis through diaper distribution programs while also offering support services for families with low incomes.

3) Division of Energy Assistance (DEA)

  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is administered through states, the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories, and approximately 150 Native American Tribes and Tribal organizations. LIHEAP is a source of federal support for households that need assistance with home energy needs, including vulnerable households with very young children, individuals with disabilities, and older adults. Through a nationwide network of governmental and locally-based nonprofit service providers, LIHEAP provides federally funded assistance in managing costs associated with home energy bills, energy crises, weatherization, and energy-related minor home repairs. To learn more about LIHEAP and the work they do, check out the LIHEAP and Extreme Heat Dashboard, LIHEAP Clearinghouse, and the Performance Management websites.
  • Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) provides funds to assist low-income households with water and wastewater bills. These funds are to be paid directly to water and wastewater owners and operators on behalf of eligible low income families. OCS was charged with implementing this brand-new program. Federal LIHWAP grants were available to states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, U.S. territories, and federally and state-recognized tribes and tribal organizations that received fiscal year 2021 Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) grants. To learn more about LIHWAP and the work they do, check out the LIHWAP Data Dashboard.

4) Division of Social Services (DSS)

  • Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) is a flexible funding source that allows states and territories (hereafter states) to tailor social service programming to their population’s needs. Through the SSBG, states may provide essential social services that help achieve key goals to promote economic self-sufficiency; to protect children and adults from neglect, abuse, and exploitation; to provide support to promote independent living, particularly for older and disabled adults, or to find the best institutional arrangements for those unable to stay in their homes, as necessary.

Current examples of ongoing projects include:

  • The Justice40 Initiative is a whole-of-government environmental justice effort to ensure that federal agencies work with states and local communities to deliver at least 40 percent of the overall benefits from the federal investments in climate, clean energy, and other related environmental justice issues to disadvantaged communities. The Justice40 Initiative at the Department of Health and Human Services includes a total of 13 programs of which five (5) are OCS programs, including LIHEAP, LIHWAP, CSBG, CED, and RCD.
  • The CSBG Tribal Framework to Support CSBG Tribal Grant Recipients Project provides federal staff a framework for working respectfully, positively, and effectively with tribal grant recipients. The goal is to develop resources that inform and guide training and technical assistance practices and approaches that support CSBG Tribal grant recipients with sensitivity. The project will also help ensure CSBG Tribal grant recipients receive customized guidance and tools to meet CSBG programmatic regulations and requirements. Using research and promising practices, the CSBG Tribal Framework plan will include an emphasis on understanding the cultural, social, and environmental factors impacting tribes. The project will support the implementation of CSBG tribal anti-poverty strategies, ways to use data to support planning, highlight strategies to support collaboration in tribal communities with external partners, and promising practices for establishing partnerships with the broader CSBG Network.
  • The SSBG Data Collection, Analysis, and Reporting Project is intended to conceptualize the next stage in SSBG reporting and analysis. The current model of data collection as approved by the Office of Management and Budget tracks inputs and outputs, largely counting dollars and tallying individuals served: child (not defined in statute or by the program office), adults, individuals 59 and younger or 60 and older. The goal is to determine how SSBG can incorporate demographic data to discern parity in race and/or around equity. Project activities may include, but are not limited to: examining SSBG annual reports, the statutory mandate around reporting, and the current data collection instrument; assessing the level of effort to add race, ethnicity, and possibly gender to SSBG reporting requirements; identifying variables to help determine impact and/or enhance performance-based analysis in SSBG; and, analyzing SSBG’s data collection as compared to complementary anti-poverty block grant programs.
  • The LIHEAP Social Determinants of Health Project is intended to provide recommendations for how LIHEAP can improve in program processes to target health related at-risk populations. LIHEAP social determinates of health may include home energy insecurity, built/natural environment, pre-existing health conditions, indoor/outdoor temperatures, natural disasters, and climate change impact for low-income households. LIHEAP seeks to answers critical policy questions regarding the impact of LIHEAP on a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. The project will also identify what case management tools LIHEAP can develop: 1) to assess energy vulnerability using an existing matrix (Energy Insecurity Scale), 2) provide assistance accordingly, and/or 3) leverage other resources by referring targeted households from non-LIHEAP setting (such as utility companies, Emergency Room, pediatric office, and elder and childcare programs) to LIHEAP-intake offices and vice-versa.
  • The LIHWAP Research Project: Understanding the Water Landscape Project is designed to gain a deeper understanding of the need and impact of this new program, particularly for the low-income households and communities. This research will provide a detailed overview of water poverty and the household costs associated with sustainable clean water access in states, territories, and tribal communities. This research is a phased approach, starting with a deeper understanding of the target population and their needs, then understanding the nature of water and wastewater costs as well as services. Research information will be gathered through literature reviews and interviews with existing grant recipients as well as water and wastewater service providers.
  • The LIHWAP Equitable Distribution of Services Research Project is designed to analyze whether LIHWAP benefits are being distributed equitably to households with the most need. Research will look at nine different states and analyze beneficiary demographics and service data at the zip code level compared to poverty indicators. Some of these indicators will include poverty rates, COVID rates, water service rates, household energy burden, and more.

Fellows in residence in OCS will participate in a variety of research, evaluation, and/or program efforts and will be expected to:

  • Conduct policy analysis and quantitative and/or qualitative research tasks to advise leadership on anti-poverty initiatives, home energy crisis mitigation, energy burden reduction, water assistance, disaster management, case management, and initiatives focused on vulnerable households and communities, including young children birth to age five, older individuals, and disabled to promote family well-being and economic mobility.
  • Establish contacts and maintain ongoing discussions with Federal agencies, other departments, and public and private organizations regarding complex national issues or problems that impact programs and their beneficiaries.
  • Identify problems and possible innovative solutions for further study by formulating broad and complex research questions into a discretionary plan.
  • Analyze, evaluates, and conduct specific individualized projects or initiatives, as assigned, concerning designated programs and their beneficiaries. As a result of project findings, develop recommendations for implementing or modifying current practices and procedures and negotiates acceptance of recommendations with management, program, grant recipients, state, regional, and Federal officials, as appropriate, to improve overall program administration effectiveness and efficiency.