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Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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In Senate, a dispute over whether human services block grant needs closer look

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | May 8, 2014 8:08 PM
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Photo by G.R. Wilson

State senators are at odds over whether a new way of allocating money for certain county human services needs further policy review.

The tiff went public this week, as Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin) took to the Senate floor to air his frustrations at the end of a session day about the issue he's "been having problems with."

Teplitz wants a second study of the human services block grant pilot program, which the governor's administration is seeking to expand statewide this year. He and others have criticized a state-conducted study of the initiative as biased and incomplete.

Teplitz' resolution would task the Legislature Budget and Finance Committee with studying the pilot program once more, "so there would be an independent review of it." But he said his plan has been stalled by the Republicans, despite his efforts to cooperate.

"We accommodated concerns that the majority had," Teplitz said. "We worked on it."

A spokesman for the Senate majority leader called Teplitz's description of events "spin."

"No commitment was made," said Erik Arneson in an e-mail. "His office shared a draft of the resolution, at which point some of our staff tried to be helpful and made a few suggestions."

Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland County) chairs the committee where Teplitz's resolution has languished since last fall. She disagrees that his proposal would yield a better report on the county human services block grant pilot program.

"It is not an investigatory agency," said Vance. "They would only get their information from DPW (Department of Public Welfare) and the counties, and they just did a study on the success or lack thereof of the block grant," she said, referring to the first review of the program.

"Because someone doesn't particularly get a bill that they want, is no reason to do all this," said Vance. "But that's certainly his right. If he chooses to do it, that's fine."

A larger dispute over the county human services block grant pilot program has gone on since the program began in 2012. It was established to give counties, just 20 at first, more flexibility in dividing state aid between certain services. Critics said it would pit services against one another in a competition for funds.

The program has been expanded once to include 30 counties, and the Corbett administration is seeking to expand it this year to all counties that want to participate.

Teplitz and others maintain that the block grant approach shouldn't be offered statewide without better analysis of its results.

"If we're going to designate something as a pilot program, then that phrase, that title, that category, should have meaning," Teplitz said. "Or else, let's not call it that. Let's not do a bait and switch."

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