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Politics & Government

Allegheny Among Counties Being Considered for State Block Grants

Allegheny County Human Services Director Marc Cherna says he thinks Allegheny County has a good chance of being chosen as one of 20 counties across Pennsylvania that will be allowed more flexibility when it comes to spending state human services funds. 

As part of the 2012-2013 Pennsylvania budget, the state is launching a new pilot program that will hand human services dollars to counties in large chunks rather than in small, dedicated slices.  The governor had wanted to roll out the program to all counties this year but during budget negotiations the proposal was trimmed back to just 20 pilot counties. 

Each interested county had to apply and the state Department of Human services says 30 of the 67 counties in the state applied to be part of the program.

“To have more people apply for it than slots available, to us, proves that we were right and counties wanted this and it was a good thing to begin this block grant process,” said DPW spokesperson Anne Bale. 

Allegheny County was among those who applied.  Cherna said the county began taking a block grant type approach to using funds in 1997 but it continued to run into problems.  “[W]e have about 160 different funding streams right now so being able to bring some of those together and do it in a seamless way is going to make it easier,” said Cherna.

Cherna said years of experience, coupled with the size of the county should help Allegheny County rise to the top of the state’s list for the pilot program.  

However, Cherna does not have much information on which to base his opinion.  No criteria for making a choice have been released by the state. “But we do intend to make appropriate choices to determine who needs the funding in this way the most,” said Bale.

The current state budget includes a 10 percent reduction in human services funding.  That is down from the 20 percent cut originally proposed by Governor Tom Corbett. Cherna said he would rather have all the money back but since the cuts are in the budget he would at least like to have the extra flexibility.

“Because most of the people we serve are in multiple programs, they have multiple issues and problems and if we can bring the money together we feel we can serve them more holistically,” said Cherna.

Social service providers and recipients should not expect to see any immediate changes if the county is chosen for the pilot program.  “What we would look to do it take the bulk of this year to rely plan it out for next year’s contracts,” said Cherna.  “We want to be very careful that we don’t harm anybody, that we actually reduce harm, but it’s going to be a pretty expansive process.”

Bale said the state expects to choose the pilot counties some time next month.