When Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett revealed his budget last week, he announced the inception of the Human Services Development Block Grant, something those in the field of human services had been requesting for years.
The introduction of the program was seen as an improvement in the ways the funds are allocated. At the same time though, the governor was severely cutting the funds that go towards many human services.
The concept of the block grant is to allow for more on-the-ground flexibility, allocating money where it's needed more at any given time, streamlining certain services and cutting down on administrative work.
"It's one we have supported for many years because we would love to have the flexibility and decision making on a local level," said Marc Cherna, Director of the Department of Human Services in Allegheny County. "We think we would do a better job of determining local needs and dealing with real critical services for our community better than something coming out of Harrisburg. The concern we have is the amount of the reduction, which at this point is proposed to be 20 percent, because no matter what kind of efficiencies you get, you will not get that kind of efficiencies — there will be a lot of service reductions."
Corbett's plan combines Department of Public Welfare funding for seven human services categories:
- mental health services
- intellectual disabilities
- county child welfare grants
- behavioral health services
- homeless assistance program
- the human services development fund
- The Act 152 Drug and Alcohol Program
The funding dropped from $842,118 million in 2011-2012 to $673,695 million for this upcoming year. That is a 20 percent drop.
The block grant plan is supposed to take effect when the new state budget kicks in on July 1. However, the county is looking for answers before that date. The Department of Human Services usually sends out its contracts by the end of this month.
"The devil is in the details, and there are no details, so at this point, we don't know exactly what's in the block grant. We don't know what the reporting requirements will be, what the flexibility we will have, we don't know if there will be a county match requirement or any kind of maintenance of effort," said Cherna.
Added to the mix was that in early 2012, the state threw down a 1 percent cut on services, leaving the Department of Human Services scrambling to figure out where to make cuts halfway through the fiscal year.
Human Services funding from the state has undergone drastic cuts in the last several years.
"It's a real challenge … because the demand keeps growing. We have waiting lists in most of these programs," said Cherna, "so how many more people don't get served who need it or how much more longer does it take when somebody needs a service? If you can't provide the service earlier on, then you end up providing that service in a much more intensive way that costs a lot more money."