Social service agencies bracing for budget — even without funding cuts

The tentative 2014-15 state budget does not appear to be taking anything away from social service providers, but it isn’t offering to pull them out of a hole either.

According to Centre County Adult Services Director Natalie Corman, it’s a situation in which just getting what they got last year is not exactly great news.

“From everything I have seen, we are being flat-funded for our block grant funding,” she said.

Flat funding is just what it sounds like: no peaks and no valleys. According to the Adult Dervices Office, that funding number could be about $5.9 million. The block grant money doesn’t just stay in one office. It gets disbursed to a variety of offices under the county’s human services umbrella.

“It goes for things like bridge housing and case management,” Corman said. “There is mental health money and intellectual disabilities, a lot of services that impact the community.”

According to the 2013-14 grant submission for state funds, services also include drug and alcohol detox and recovery support, a variety of programs through Children and Youth Services and some programs for senior citizens. The proposed state budget anticipates that 12,595 county residents will be helped by the various projects.

That’s what makes no increase hard to handle from Corman’s perspective.

“It’s not a cut, but we’ve dealt with cuts a lot over the last years,” she said. “We’re hopeful, but just having no cut is also difficult.”

It leaves the county still struggling to fill gaps created in earlier years.

“During the last two fiscal years, Centre County needed to process the 10 percent funding reductions we received with our providers and our service continuum to minimize the effects on our clients,” states the county’s 2014 human services plan template.

Some agency administrators have reason to be happy, such as Anne Ard, executive director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center.

“If the governor signs it, it will be good for us since it will include (I presume) his increases for domestic violence and sexual assault services,” Ard said. “It doesn’t get us where we need to be, certainly, but it is a start.

“Given the financial shape of the commonwealth, I’m very pleased that the legislature and governor recognize the value that victim services bring to our local communities and the necessity for increased funding for these critical services. The lives and safety of women, children and men depend on adequately funded services and I’m pleased that the folks in Harrisburg recognize this.”

On the other hand, having no increases in the other areas trickles back to her clients.

“The budget does have a negative impact on many of the victims we serve with flat-lined funding for legal services and homeless assistance,” Ard said. “So we will continue to work with clients around resources for those critical services.”

That points to another of Corman’s concerns.

One of the most critical services she sees is food banks. While funding those doesn’t fall under the same block grant as the other services, it is still an area she worries about. As with the other programs under her direction, she is not anticipating cuts, but isn’t expecting increases either.

“It’s very tight,” she said, noting Centre County food banks serve “well over 5,000 individuals.”

Perhaps the most difficult part about the budget, as it stands now, is the uncertainty.

“Today starts a new fiscal year,” Corman said. “Without it being finalized, we are still just in a waiting period.”