State House Sound Bites

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

Lawmaker asks for funding boost for human services in current fiscal year

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 12, 2013 11:02 PM
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State lawmakers and human services advocates are pushing for more funding to make up for the cut they received in last year’s budget process. They’re making the case that additional dollars will result in a lower prison population – a key issue for the governor.

Pennsylvania’s 67 counties provide services for children, the homeless, people with intellectual disabilities, and people with substance abuse problems. These programs took a 10 percent cut last June during the budget process, and the Republican chairman of the House Human Services Committee has proposed that the $84 million be restored in the current fiscal year.

The bill has cleared the panel and awaits a vote in the full House.

Deb Beck, head of Drug and Alcohol Services Providers of Pennsylvania, said as funding and admissions go down for addiction treatment services, prison incarceration rates go up.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Beck. “If you don’t treat addiction, you’re going to have to treat it in the jails, or on the highways, or in the emergency rooms.”

There’s no sign that such an argument could persuade the governor.

“If you look at what we’re doing, we’re reducing the state prison population,” said Corbett Tuesday at an unrelated event.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the state prison population declined by more than 450 inmates last year due to recently implemented reforms. The state expects the population to decrease over the next three years.

During the House committee hearing on the bill to restore funding, panel chairman Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) likened his proposal to purchasing a lottery ticket. Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) called it a Hail Mary pass.

Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford) pointed out that if the measure is successful, it will just mean lawmakers have to find another 84 million dollars for county human services in the next fiscal year (the subject of current budget negotiations), and every year after that.

DiGirolamo himself said his bill will be “a really tough sell.”

“But I’ve been around here for long enough to know that unless you try to do something,” he added, “you’re never going to be successful if you don’t try.”

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