HARRISBURG -- Gov. Tom Corbett defended a proposed 10 percent cut in county human services funding that would take seven separate allocations and bundle them into a single grant.
"People living in local communities know their needs better than Harrisburg," Corbett said Monday. The governor would let counties distribute the lump sum.
Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander said the change would give counties greater "flexibility" in spending the money.
The proposal is part of the final phase of negotiations on the state budget
for the next fiscal year, which begins Sunday. Corbett in February proposed a $669 million human services fund, a 20 percent cut. The Senate proposed $753 million, a 10 percent cut. Negotiations continue with the House.
Asked at a news conference whether some money for programs such as child welfare, mental health and drug and alcohol programs could be restored further, Corbett said no. "I don't see it going below the 10 percent cut right now."
State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, the chairman of the House Human Services Committee, said at a separate press conference yesterday he and others had concerns. The block grants could add uncertainty for local providers, he said, who would be at the mercy of year-to-year funding shifts based on county decisions.
"These block grants have the potential to be more damaging than any cuts could be," he said.
DiGirolamo said the Legislature was moving too quickly -- he said he had only seen specific language last week -- and he needed more time to consider.
Other Republicans and Democrats in the House share his concerns, DiGirolamo said, possibly enough to "put the vote at risk." He said he and others favor creating a one-year pilot program.
Ray Firth, policy initiatives director at the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh, said a block grant distribution isn't necessarily a bad idea. He said it would make more sense to keep funding at current level, create pilot programs and evaluate the impact on consumers.