Commissioners urge state government to restore human services funding

As Gov. Tom Wolf is defending a $33.3 billion budget proposal for the 2016-17 fiscal year, counties in the commonwealth are still concerned about the impasse that has locked up state funds during the 2015-16 year.

With 244 days without a budget as of Tuesday, county commissioners unanimously passed a resolution joining other counties in urging the General Assembly and Wolf to restore funding for human services programs to historic levels. It also requests that mechanisms be put into place to assure any future impasse or delay doesn’t become a burden on Centre County residents.

All 67 counties of the commonwealth are being asked by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania to adopt and publicize this resolution, Chairman Michael Pipe said, saying commissioners across the state are trying to be as proactive as possible to make sure another impasse doesn’t happen again.

Funding for services has been cut over the past decade, according to a CCAP news release in January. Included in the cuts is a 10 percent aggregate cut to the Human Services Block Grant during the 2012-13 fiscal year — a cut that has been maintained for four budget cycles.

“Counties urge the governor and the General Assembly to restore the 10 percent reductions to seven critical line items in the Human Services Block Grant,” Dauphin County commissioner and CCAP Human Services Committee Chairman George Hartwick III said in the release. “We also ask for expansion of the (grant) to all counties who want the opportunity to take advantage of the flexibility and efficiencies it offers.”

Counties also oppose “rebalancing,” he said, which shifts a full quarter of child welfare funding to the next fiscal year with no guarantee that those funds will ever be appropriated in the future.

“It’s very difficult to provide social services when you’re either not receiving funding or it’s coming in at random times,” Vice Chairman Mark Higgins said. “They’re cutting 10 percent here and there, and they’re doing the rebalancing, which means they’re skipping a full three months of payments.”

In the meantime, he said, Centre County has families and residents that are in need. The county also has staff who need to be paid for the 40 hours a week they are working.

“If you were a business, this would simply not be acceptable,” Higgins said.

While CCAP has spoken of possible legal action against the state government, Pipe said there have been no updates in terms of legal action. The resolution does not replace the potential for legal action, he said, but instead runs parallel with it.

The association is expected to discuss the possibility of action during its upcoming spring meeting, he said.

The county has begun receiving third-quarter revenues, finance Director Denise Elbell said, and early tax revenue as well. About $600,000 in taxes has come in, she said, which should grow to $10 million to $15 million by April.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews