Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
The fate of a pilot program affecting county human services programs is getting more scrutiny this week as state lawmakers consider proposals to expand it gradually or scrap it altogether.
The pilot program allows 20 counties to collapse the funding of several distinct human services into one big funding pot, removing the constraints on each service’s designated silo of funding and giving administrators more control over how the money is divvied up.
Service providers and advocates say it’s a dangerous approach, putting services in a competition for state funding that was cut by 10 percent in the current year’s budget.
But a House panel signed off on a measure to expand the program Monday. Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga), chairman of the House Health Committee, said he hasn’t heard complaints about the way the block grant program is working in the 20 participating counties.
“Normally if there’s something that’s just systemically wrong or dysfunctional or flawed, we hear about it,” he said.
The approved proposal would expand the pilot program by 10 slots – giving first dibs to counties that were denied last September because of the 20-county cap on participation. If any one of those 10 counties don’t apply, other counties will be able to submit applications.
Some panel Democrats said they want to wait to open up the program until they get a report due in January on the program’s implementation.
“The purpose of a pilot program, as I understand it, is to evaluate the success or failure of a program and go from there before expanding it further,” said Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh). “If we don’t have any actual data any reports that describe the overall impact of the block grant program, I am hesitant to expand it further.”
Rep. Flo Fabrizio (D-Erie) likened the block grant pilot program to a “smokescreen” disguising budget cuts, but said he supports the proposal to expand it to counties that were previously shut out and “apparently are ready to participate in the program.”
“Hopefully the empirical data that we’re looking for will be forthcoming in January,” he said.
The Corbett administration doesn’t want to wait for the January report to expand the program to all qualified counties.
It’s unclear if legislative leaders will push for a more modest expansion.
The House Human Services Committee will consider Tuesday a proposal to repeal the program altogether. The House GOP spokesman suggests the measure is doomed.
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