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Cherna Says Restoration of Funding for Human Services 'Long Time Coming'

Some of the big ticket items in Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget for FY 2015-16 include $6.1 billion for basic education for public schools across the commonwealth and $2.27 billion for the Department of Corrections to operate state prisons.

A smaller line item in the governor’s $29.9 billion spending plan is for human services at the county level. 

“We will restore a small amount of funding,” Wolf said in his budget address March 3. “It’s not a lot of money, but it is important money.”

The governor is proposing restoring the 10 percent in funds that were cut three years ago. That amounts to an additional $14 million for Allegheny County phased in over three years, according to Marc Cherna, director of the county’s Department of Human Services.

“One of the things in the human services system is that the demand always outweighs supply," Cherna said. "It’s always very difficult to meet the consumers’ needs, and we have to make really hard choices when you don’t have enough resources to help people.”

Cherna says prior to the cuts the county received about $140 million for mental health, intellectual disability, child protection, drug and alcohol and homeless services among others. Since the cuts funding has been flat.

“We are really the last resort for society," he said. "We deal with folks who are homeless; we deal with folks with severe mental illness; we deal with abused and neglected children; we deal with seniors who are very vulnerable.”

According to Cherna, his department serves about 225,000 residents per year — about one sixth of the county’s population.

Cherna realizes state lawmakers have many difficult spending decisions ahead of them but believes funding for human services in an investment.

“So an increase in child welfare which is what’s proposed in the budget, to child protective services can meet the needs of the new laws that were passed [to reduce child abuse] because there’s much more demand on the counties," he said. "That’s very positive. So I see a lot of positives in these things, and I hope the Legislature will see that too.”

The House Appropriations Committee began hearings on the budget Monday.