Cuts in human services affect Bradford County
TOWANDA - This summer, a planned summer camp for mentally retarded individuals, which was to be funded by the Bradford County government, was not held.
In September, the number of staff who perform mental health assessments on Bradford and Sullivan County public school students as part of the Student Assistance Program, was cut from 2 to 1 1/2.
These cuts resulted from the 10 percent cuts in state funding that were made this summer in various human services areas, Bradford County Human Services Director Bill Blevins said.
And more cuts in services may be coming to Bradford County in the human services area, he said.
As a result of the 10 percent cuts, which reduced the amount of state funding that was provided to Bradford County, the Bradford County commissioners on Thursday approved a 10 percent reduction in the total amount that the county spends on the majority of its contracts with outside agencies for human services, Blevins said.
"I suspect there may be fewer service provisions" as a result of the new year-long county contracts that were approved Thursday with the agencies, which include, for example, Futures Community Support Services, Allied Services, Northwestern Human Services, and the Main Link, Blevins said.
However, because the state funding cuts were made so recently - they stem from the new state budget that was adopted this summer - it is too soon to say where most the reductions in services would occur, he said.
While it is not known yet where most of the specific cuts in services would occur, there will be a limit to their impact, Blevins said.
Blevins said that he anticipates that the 10 percent cuts in state funding will not result in any major cuts in services to Bradford County residents. "The safety net will still be in place," he said.
Under the Fiscal Year 2012-13 state budget, there was a 10 percent cut in state dollars to Bradford County for its homeless assistance program, its Human Services Development Fund spending, its intellectual disabilities base program, its mental health base program, and its Student Assistance Program, Blevins said. There were also state funding cuts to the county's drug and alcohol program, he said.
Under the Student Assistance Program in Bradford and Sullivan counties, a team of public school staff in a school district identifies students who may need mental health treatment and refers them, with their parents' permission, for a mental health assessment, Blevins said. That could lead to treatment for the child.
Following the state budget cuts for human services that occurred this summer, Bradford County reduced its annual spending on the Student Assistance Program from $118,000 to $88,500, Bradford County Mental Health Program Administrator Ron Schell said.
Consequently, Northwestern Human Services, which is the non-profit agency that is paid by the county to conduct mental health assessments of students under the Student Assistance Program, cut back in September the number of staff assigned to the SAP program from two full-time workers to one full-time and one half-time worker, said Renee Smith, county director for Northwestern Human Services.
"Our goal is to not have the reduction affect services to students, but with the cut being so new, we are not able to ascertain" whether that goal will be achieved, she said.
"That being said, there will be reduction in the time we spend in each school district," she said.
Schell said he doesn't like to see a cut in the SAP program, because it helps students to have a healthy future.
"They (the students) are our future," Schell said. "We want them to be able to grow up and assume all the responsibilities that anyone else has."
Blevins said there are a number of reasons why he doesn't think that the state budgets cuts will result in any major cuts in services in Bradford County.
In the past, some of the human services agencies that the county contracts with have not used all the funds that were allocated to them by the county, and those agencies had to return the unused funds to the government, he explained. The county tried to target those agencies that historically had unused funds for cuts, he said.
The county will also closely monitor the human services agencies to see if services are being affected, Blevins continued. If services provided by an agency start to be affected, the county will try to shift funds to the agency in question from another agency, through modifications in the contracts, he said.
The county is also taking steps to make its own human services departments more efficient, and the human services agencies that the county contracts with also need to do that, he said.
In response to the state budget cuts in human services, cutting back on county staff is not a good option, Blevins said. "There is no place where we can cut staff," he said,
"We've always been pretty efficient" in the use of staff, he added.
Spending on the Student Assistance Program in Bradford and Sullivan counties was cut by more than 10 percent because, in addition to the 10 percent cut in the state Department of Education grant that funds the program, Bradford County this year also cut $20,000 in state mental health base funding for the program, Blevins said. The $20,000 needs to be used elsewhere by the Bradford County Human Services Department, he said.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.