The federal government’s entitlement programs reflect a commitment to meet low-income people’s basic needs in a few essential areas, including health (through Medicaid), food (through SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), and support to people with disabilities (through Supplemental Security Income, or SSI). All people who meet the programs’ eligibility criteria can access these programs without delay.
Block-granting these programs would strip away the federal commitment to help vulnerable individuals and families who are eligible for these programs when they need them. Fixed annual funding would render the programs unable to automatically respond to increased need, as they do today. As need increases, states would have to cut eligibility or benefits or establish waiting lists to stay within capped funding.
Unlike Block Grants, Entitlement Program Funding Responds to Need
Consider an economic downturn that fuels a sudden increase in people who are entitled to an entitlement program’s benefits.
Funding for these programs responds automatically to the increased need. By assisting people when times are tough, entitlements also help stabilize the economy. As the economy recovers, fewer people qualify for benefits.
A block grant wouldn’t respond the same way to a faltering economy and greater need. Fixed funding levels would require states to absorb higher costs — or to cut eligibility or benefits. And the economy would lose an automatic stabilizer, which would worsen the downturn. That's because unlike with entitlements, block grants would not provide guaranteed resources to spend in local communities and, in turn, help keep people employed.