House bill seeks restoration of $84 million for Pa. human services

    Pennsylvania lawmakers and human-services advocates are pushing for more funding to make up for cuts in last year’s budget process.

    As part of that effort, they are making the case that more funding equals better prison policy — a key issue for the governor.

    Pennsylvania’s 67 counties provide services for children, the homeless, people with substance-abuse problems, and people with intellectual disabilities.

    These programs took a 10 percent cut in June during the budget process, and one House Republican has proposed that $84 million be restored in the current fiscal year.

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    “That’s going to be a really tough sell but I’ve been around here for long enough to know that unless you try to do something, you’re never going to be successful if you don’t try,” said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo of Bucks County.

    He and other lawmakers have likened the bill to a lottery ticket and a Hail Mary pass.

    One pointed out that if the measure is successful, it will just mean the Legislature has to find another $84 million for county human services in the next fiscal year, and every year after that.

    The bill was approved in committee and awaits a final vote in the full House.

    Incarceration tied to funding?

    Deb Beck, head of Drug and Alcohol Services Providers of Pennsylvania, says as funding and admissions go down for addiction-treatment services, prison incarceration rates go up.

    “It’s not rocket science. If you don’t treat addiction, you’re going to have to treat it in the jails, or on the highways, or in the emergency rooms,” she said Tuesday.

    However, there’s no sign that such an argument could persuade Gov. Tom Corbett.

    “If you look at what we’re doing, we’re reducing the state prison population,” Corbett says.

    Reports show the state prison population declined by more than 450 inmates last year due to recently implemented reforms, and the state expects the trend to continue over the next three years.

    DiGirolamo also opposes the expansion of the Corbett administration-backed block-grant program to fund the county administered human services.

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