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Politics & Government

Human Service Block Grant Fight Grows in Pennsylvania

A budget tussle in Harrisburg is heating up over the fate of seven county-run human services programs that serve people with intellectual disabilities and substance abuse problems. Both the funding method and the amount of state assistance are at issue.

An original 20% cut for the human services programs became a 10% cut after budget negotiators used improving revenue reports to persuade Governor Tom Corbett to soften his earlier proposal.

Corbett said Monday in a press event that he still wants to take the seven distinct funding streams for those programs and lump them into a single block grant. Supporters say the change gives counties more flexibility. Detractors say it could shortchange important programs.

Corbett said there will be savings through efficiencies in the new funding plan, but he admits there will still be a cut in total dollars available for human service programs. However, he said he doubts any more money will be found.

"If we don't get the 102 votes, then the budget's going to go through, and if it's a 10% reduction, they will get the 10% reduction, and I suspect that means a 10% reduction across the board, in the different categories, and they won't have the flexibility to move it," said Corbett.

Republican state Representative Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks County) has been one of the most vocal opponents of cuts and changes. He said he'd rather see funding for those seven programs cut by 10% rather than them being funded with a single block grant.

"In my mind, this block grant concept is going to be far more damaging for the people who receive these services than the cuts will ever be," said DiGirolamo.

DiGirolamo has argued the Corbett Administration is "moving way too fast" with its block grant proposal. He's proposing a pilot program for counties who want to try the new block grant plan to fund human services.

A phase-in period for the block grants shift is scheduled to start this July.