Pa. county commissioners group backs change in block grant distribution

    The group representing Pennsylvania’s county commissioners has signed on board to a plan changing the way the state delivers health-care funding to counties.

    Right now, the state cuts seven different checks to county human services programs. Counties need to keep each funding stream separate, and report back on how they spent the money.

    A switch to block grants means that, instead of receiving funding for homeless assistance, behavioral health services and other programs, counties will get one payment from the state.

    The plan cuts back on red tape, says Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander.

    “The counties, for a long time here in Pennsylvania, and actually across the country in other states, have been asking for flexibility from state government,” Alexander said Tuesday.

    One thing the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania hasn’t been seeking, though, is less money.

    In addition to lumping health payments together, Corbett’s budget reduces funding for the programs by 20 percent.

    Block grant supporters say the streamlined process will reduce overhead costs, but health-care advocates are skeptical.

    “Block grants tend to do several negative things. One is they’re an easy vehicle to reduce funding,” says George Kimes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Community Providers Association.

    Kimes also worries money currently earmarked for health care will be spent in other places.

    The Corbett Administration wants the change to go into effect on July 1, but the House and Senate still need to approve the block grant initiative.

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