Changes in Pa. policy worry advocates for those in need

Welfare advocates are concerned about a new pilot funding program for some Pennsylvania counties’ human services departments that could be rolled out statewide come next year.

Twenty counties will get a single lump sum, or block grant, to cover a range of programs this year.They’ll have much fewer constraints on how much has to go to each type of care.Jim Jordan, with the mental health advocacy group NAMI Pennsylvania, says the counties will be forced to play Solomon.”Trying to determine whether we’re going to provide services to children and reduce services to people with mental illness. It is a horrible position for the counties to be in,” Jordan says. “The state steps back and says, all right, we’re giving you this special gift.”It’s a particularly sore spot for mental health advocates, who say 75 percent of the affected funding currently goes toward mental health programs.Thirty counties applied to be part of the pilot program.The state is expected to name which counties will receive the block grant this month.

Advocates for the poor also are urging that the state’s general assistance program be reinstated — at least partially.

The program, which provided monthly cash grants of about $200 to the poor, ended a little more than a month ago.It aided very low-income clients, most in Philadelphia, who are unemployed, sick and disabled. Others were recovering addicts or domestic abuse victims.Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, says he’d like to see general assistance restored, if only in part.”I think some of the money that went for general assistance really helped people out, as they’re coming out of these crisis situations, helping them pay their rent, helping them get back on their feet again,” he said Tuesday. “And I would not mind taking a look at it and see if there’s some way that we can get some of that money put back into the program.”

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When the program was ended in July, the Corbett Administration said it would work to connect former recipients with other benefits.Some advocates say that shows a lack of understanding of the circumstances of general assistance recipients – some of whom are homeless, or are living in group homes.Advocates say they’re working cooperatively with several groups to track the effect elimination of the program is having on individuals, and they’ll share their findings with the Legislature.

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