Group Backs Corbett’s Services Deal

Hazleton Standard Speaker

Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal to steer state aid for seven human service programs through a single grant drew support Wednesday from the leadership of the association representing county commissioners.

The officers of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania believe they will benefit from a trade-off of a 20 percent overall program funding cut in return for more leeway in managing these programs without state mandates.

The delegation present at the Capitol to outline priorities mainly represented midsize and small counties. Their urban colleagues were absent.

The governor proposes to create a human services development block grant by combining seven programs – the human services development fund, drug and alcohol outpatient treatment, homeless assistance, county child welfare special grants, community mental health services, community aid to individuals with intellectual disabilities and behavioral health services.

Each would be cut about 20 percent to save $168 million, but counties would have more flexibility to use money to meet their needs.

“Although the overall budget request for human services does contain cuts that are problematic, the expanded flexibility and reduced administrative burden is consistent with counties’ goals and is expected to soften the blow,” said association president of Jo Ellen Litz of Lebanon County.

This flexibility will make it easier to serve families that need a range of services, she added.

Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith said a block grant would be a positive step in an area experiencing population growth and social challenges because of the natural gas drilling boom.

The association is working with the state Department of Public Welfare to develop pilot projects for new ways to support and deliver services. The association cites a state mandate requiring a needs-based plan for spending on child welfare more than a year in advance of the funding as adding to unnecessary administrative costs.

Human services program account for 60 percent of county budgets, the association said.

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