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Big Players Weigh in on DPW Block Grant Idea

The group representing Pennsylvania's county commissioners has signed on to a plan changing the way the state delivers health care funding to counties. The change is key to selling Governor Tom Cobett's 12-13 budget spending plan.

Right now, the state cuts seven different checks to county human services programs. Counties need to keep each funding stream separate, and report back on how they spent the money. A switch to block grants means that instead of receiving funding for homeless assistance, behavioral health services and other programs, counties will get one payment from the state.

"This is not something being done to us. This is something we are doing jointly with this administration," said Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach. He likes the idea of less paperwork and more flexibility.

Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander said, "The counties, for a long time here in Pennsylvania, and actually across the country in other states, have been asking for flexibility from state government."

But George Kimes, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Community Providers Association has concerns. "Block grants tend to do several negative things. One is they're an easy vehicle to reduce funding," Kimes said.

The proposed change comes as just that is happening. In addition to lumping health payments together, Corbett's budget reduces funding for the programs by 20%.

Block grant supporters say the streamlined process will reduce overhead costs and paperwork, but health care advocates say it will not be enough. They also worry money currently earmarked for health care will be spent in other places.