Cuts loom in human services
Bradford County is beginning the process of switching to a seemingly imminent block grant program for its Human Services Department.
The block grant proposal allows county government to allocate human service funds as opposed to the state, which generally results in a more efficient budget. However, the current financial climate and results of the block grant which have been tested in 10 pilot counties have shown that budget cuts are on the horizon.
At a public meeting Thursday night at the Sons of Italy in Sayre, local human service agency representatives had a chance to explain to Bradford County Human Services Director Bill Blevins how their respective agency operates and why it is needed in the county. Blevins will use the information received from the meeting to help prioritize where funds will be spent after the cuts occur.
"This meeting is about the needs of our community, and where can we get the best bang for our dollar," he said.
In the presentations given by local agency representatives, each had an undertone that cuts were expected in the near future. The representatives also made clear that increased funding would bring growth, but at this point maintaining where they are now is the resounding goal.
Representatives from The Main Link, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Allied-Services, and the Area Agency on Aging each gave a presentation, which was limited to three minutes.
Blevins explained that while the block grant plan has not yet been introduced to Bradford County, there is about a 90 percent chance that it will be in the near future.
A report from the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare presented to Governor Tom Corbett provided 13 funding options for the block grant program. The options presented in the report range from giving Bradford County a 273 percent increase in funding to a 30% decrease. While the DPS stated that it does not condone or endorse any of the options provided, and is only presenting them in compliance with Act 87, Blevins expressed confusion at the wide range of selections.
Act 87 is a finance bill that was signed into law July 2 by Governor Corbett which proposed financial guidelines for a myriad of state agencies.
Blevins said that the county currently has approximately 30 to 40 contracts with local human service agencies that could possibly be affected by the upcoming cuts.
There will be a second public meeting held at a future time, after the state legislature decides how much money Bradford County will be given to allocate to human services programs. A prospective county budget will be created and presented at the meeting in order to receive more public feedback.
Blevins cited Alleghany County, one of the 10 pilot counties for the block grant, as a direction that Bradford County is likely to go. Alleghany County received cuts as large as 95 percent in some sectors of human services.
Blevins noted that it may be possible to use money that has been freed from the county budget because of impact fee revenue from gas companies to fill in gaps the human services cuts will create. This is the strategy that allowed Bradford County to reduce property taxes just last month.
At the meeting, Jim Rosler of Allied-Services stated that the use of local county agencies saves the state money by lowering the burden on other more expensive options. The same point was made by D.J. Rees of The Main Link.