Bipartisan opposition to new Pa. block grant approach

    A budget tussle is heating up in Pennsylvania 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 are at issue.

    An original 20 percent cut for the human services programs became a 10 percent cut after budget negotiators and improving revenue reports persuaded Gov. Tom Corbett to soften his earlier proposal.

    Corbett says he still wants to take the seven distinct funding streams for those programs and lump them into a single block grant.

    Dozens of county commissioners stood with Corbett Monday as he said the change will give counties more flexibility to dole out money based on local needs.

    But he says counties still will get $84 million less.

    “I don’t think the efficiency is going to offset a 10 percent cut. I’m going to say that right off the top of my head,” he said.

    Turning to the assembled commissioners, he asked, “Do you think it’s going to offset a 10 percent cut? No? OK.”

    One Republican House member vehemently opposes the idea of combining the money into a single stream.

    “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 Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks.

    DiGirolamo says he thinks there are enough Democrats and Republicans concerned over the plan to keep it from gaining support.

    Opponents of the block grant also say it’s “moving way too fast.” The phase-in period is scheduled to start in July.

    The proposal has passed as part of the Senate’s budget bill.

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