Support builds in Pa. for funding county human services with block grant

    Several county commissioners and Pennsylvania lawmakers are joining Gov. Tom Corbett in a push to expand a pilot program to change the way counties receive human services funding.

    The proposal calls for funneling the counties’ state funding for seven distinct human services in a single block grant.

    With ever-dwindling funds, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania says their members need to be able to move money between services to help as many people as possible.

    Director Doug Hill said he thinks of a family that shows up at the county’s door with several service needs. Under the block grant program, he says, just one caseworker can deal with all the requests, cutting down on time, paperwork, and money necessary to deliver services.

    “To have that family sit down and say, OK, here is the one person we’re dealing with and this one person is going to work us into the spectrum of services that is going to help us as a family,” he said. “And that’s really the heart of the flexibility and why it works better.”

    The program has been criticized by service providers and advocates, who have become accustomed to lobbying lawmakers, not county commissioners, for funding.

    Some Democrats say the pilot program should be given a full year before being expanded.

    But state Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland County, says the approach is important because it changes how service providers make their case for more state funding — in a way that can help them.

    “Those special interest groups that have come to me in opposition are protecting one part of their own little silo,” said Vance. “But I have said, ‘Explain to me how you think you could influence 253 legislators better than three county commissioners who know their county best?'”

    Service providers have a backer in one House Republican, who’s trying to scrap the block grant program altogether, saying it puts services in a competition for funds that were cut by 10 percent last year.

    Only 20 counties were permitted to participate in the pilot program for the block grant.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.