State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Gov, lawmakers face off over human services block grant plan

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jun 26, 2012 1:48 AM

A budget tussle is heating up over the fate of seven county-run human services programs that includes services for people with intellectual disabilities and substance abuse problems.  Both the funding method and the amount are at issue.

An original 20 percent cut for the human services programs became a 10 percent cut, after budget negotiators and improving revenue reports persuaded Governor Corbett to soften his earlier proposal.

Corbett says he still wants to take the seven distinct funding streams for those programs and lump them into a single line item – the Human Services Block Grant.

Dozens of county commissioners stood with Corbett Monday afternoon as he said the change will give counties more flexibility to dole out money based on local needs. 

But he said the block grant doesn’t mean counties will be able to absorb the $84 million dollar cut. 

“I don’t think the efficiency is going to offset a 10 percent cut.  I’m going to say that right off the top of my head.  And I’ll turn around,” said Corbett, turning to the commissioners behind him.  “Do you think it’s going to offset a 10 percent cut?” he asked them, getting chorus of ‘nos.’  “No,” said Corbett, turning back.

Opponents of the block grant say it’s architects are “moving way too fast.”  The grant, if passed, would be phased-in starting this July.             

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) is proposing a pilot program for the block grant, so some counties can opt-in to the block grant and report back to the Legislature in a year.

“These are our most vulnerable citizens,” said DiGirolamo of the clients of the county-run programs.  “People that need mental health, drug and alcohol, intellectual disability, homeless, children and youth.” 

During a press conference right after the governor’s, DiGirolamo spoke out against the block grant alongside service providers and disability rights advocates.  He said concerns over the block grant cross the aisle, and may be sufficiently widespread in the House to keep the proposal from passing. 

Corbett appeared cavalier at the notion that he Human Services Block Grant wouldn’t win the approval of the House.  “If we don’t get the 102 votes, then the budget’s going to go through,” said Corbett, “and if it’s a 10 percent reduction, [counties] will get the 10 percent reduction, and I suspect that means a 10 percent reduction across the board.”

DiGirolamo was equally dug in Tuesday afternoon.  “In my mind, this block grant concept is going to be far more damaging for the people who receive these services than the cuts will ever be,” he said.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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