Public health officials denounce planned cuts to Pa. human services

    When Gov. Tom Corbett released his budget plan for Pennsylvania in February, it included a 20 percent statewide cut to health and human service programs.

    Philadelphia City Council Tuesday invited area public health officials to weigh in on how the cuts would affect care in the region.

    The testimony was unanimous. All parties agreed the 20 percent reduction will have a drastic effect on the care provided to the city’s homeless, drug addicted and mentally ill.

    “Many of the individuals who will be impacted by this are very vulnerable individuals — probably the most vulnerable in our city. Therefore, any change is going to be hard for them, not to mention significant change,” said Donald Schwarz, the city’s deputy mayor for health and opportunity.

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    On top of the 20 percent reduction in funds, Corbett’s plan lumps together seven previously discrete health and human services-related budget line-items into one “block grant.” From the state’s perspective, this is a good thing because it allows each individual county to decide which support programs its community values most highly.

    Counties with, for instance, low rates of homelessness but high rates of drug addiction would have the power to spend accordingly.

    Philadelphia health officials say that, at least in this area, it won’t work that way.

    They worry, as Councilwoman Marion Tasco said, that the cuts will “pit vital services against each other,” leaving service providers with the impossible job of choosing, for instance, between homeless assistance and child welfare.

    Opponents also claim that the cuts will actually lead indirectly to higher government spending. They say money saved now will be needed to deal with the higher crime and hospitalization rates that they think will inevitably come from the decreased care and attention.

    Corbett’s office has stood by its budget proposal. They say cuts are a hard but necessary way to decrease the state’s debt.

    Many, though, wonder about the true cost of the cuts.

    “Making numbers balance on paper has nothing to do with people’s lives,” said Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez.

    Before the cuts become real, state lawmakers still must approve the spending plan.

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