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Step right up, folks, and try your luck at the shell game.

Under this shell, we have an added $197 million for county child welfare offices in the 2016-17 state budget. And under this shell we have a bill for $172.7 million due to the offices for the fourth quarter of 2015-16.

Keep your eye on the table as the state Legislature shuffles the shells, a few quick moves and presto! The bill disappears! Isn't that amazing!

There's only $24 million left under the other shell, you say? Quick, look over there, is that an elephant in the middle of the Capitol?

The state budget passed earlier this month supposedly includes an additional $197 million for offices like York County Children, Youth and Families across the state.

The offices, especially York County's, have come under fire since a report from Auditor General Eugene Pasquale showed 42,000 calls to ChildLine reporting suspected child abuse were unanswered last year. That means 22 percent of people calling to try to get help for children either gave up when the phone kept ringing and no one picked up or were automatically disconnected when there were so many calls the system was full.

York County CYF is operating on its fourth provisional license and has seen referrals skyrocket after a change in mandatory reporting laws. The local office fielded 2,051 referrals in the first five months of this year, compared to 1,851 for that time frame in 2015 and 1,138 for the first five months of 2014.

Meanwhile, the state Legislature put off paying those offices $172.7 million for their fourth-quarter expenses, after waiting nearly nine months before enacting last year's budget at all. That money was paid in this year's budget. Apparently the same thing happened last year: Bills for the fourth quarter of 2014-15 were paid in the 2015-16 budget.

So, nothing new to see here, please move along.

But ...

Just because it's happened before, that doesn't mean it should keep happening.

This year's budget includes funding for the CYF offices through June 30, 2017, with an actual 2.5 percent increase over the funding received last year, not the 20.7 percent the budget documents show.

It's up to the state to make sure that money goes to protect our youngest residents in a timely fashion. There's no reason to continue to dupe the citizens of Pennsylvania into thinking there's a huge increase in funding for county CYF offices when in fact there isn't.

So legislators, stop the fancy tricks. Even a child could see through this one.

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