What Is a Block Grant? [Updated]

Note: This blog post was originally published in 2017 and updated on January 21, 2020.

A block grant is a specific type of federal financial assistance for a broadly defined function. (Editor’s note: Before getting into the nuance of block grants, you may want to review the terms “federal financial assistance” and “grant.”)

Block grants are often awarded by the federal government to U.S. state or territory governments, although some block grants are awarded directly to local governments (e.g., Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Entitlement Program to cities and counties on a formula basis).

The block grant recipients then implement the programs within those broadly defined functions (i.e., the purpose & parameters defined by legislation).

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What Is a Government Grant and Pass-Through Funding?

You can find a lot of websites about “government grants,” but not all of these sources are using this term in the same way. So, what is a government grant?

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As we’ve written about before, a federal grant is one form of federal financial assistance in which the main purpose is to carry out a public purpose. In such a grant, this is typically done by transferring anything of value (typically funding) from the federal agency to a non-federal entity.

The phrase “government” grant, on the other hand, is not an official term, but rather a common way people refer to a grant that is awarded by a governmental entity to another entity. In the U.S., this generally refers to the federal, state, or local government levels. On Grants.gov, we only have federal grant postings.

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