Westmoreland, Washington counties agree to join Pa. services grant plan

Will divide funds among agencies

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HARRISBURG -- A state program that aims to provide more flexibility in how human services programs are funded is expanding to include Washington and Westmoreland counties.

The human services block grant combines what had been seven different funding streams -- concerning mental health and intellectual disability community programs, child welfare grants, homeless assistance, drug and alcohol funds and other services -- into one block grant, which is then issued to counties.

The expansion of the program was somewhat controversial -- a number of county commissioners and human services officials had pushed for the block grant, advocated by the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett, saying it provides them with needed flexibility.

But many advocacy groups were wary of the idea, saying they did not want to see vulnerable groups pitted against each other for dwindling funds.

No major changes in how funds are allocated are planned for the time being, say officials from both counties.

"It's premature to identify areas of cost savings or where we would want to shift money," said Tim Kimmel, human services director for Washington County.

"We will be able to look at [the system], in total, as a whole, and decide what is working and what is not working, and where we need to redirect our efforts," he said.

Similarly, Westmoreland County won't move any funds among the seven line-items in the first year of the grant "unless there is an absolute no-brainer that can be done without hurting any consumers," said Dirk Matson, director of human services, Westmoreland County.

"We don't want to make any knee-jerk reactions," he said. "We want to make sure it is well-thought out [and] for there to be a process in place that's fair."

Allegheny County, which has been part of the block grant program since its inception a year ago, also has not seen any major changes in funding. It has set up a community advisory board for input on any possible changes and also conducted public hearings about the block grant process.

A resolution that Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin, intends to put forth this fall would require an independent study of counties where the grant has already been implemented. The evaluation would examine in detail reallocation of funds for each service line compared to the prior year and compared to the year prior to the implementation of the block grant.

The study would also evaluate measurable outcomes achieved before and after the block grant, report on any start-up or administrative costs incurred.

The other counties joining the block grant program this year are Blair, Cambria, Lackawanna, McKean, Montgomery, Northampton, Potter and Schuylkill.

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Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise. First Published October 20, 2013 8:00 PM


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