Corbett Administration and County Commissioners Association Going to the Mat for Human Services Block Grant
PA House tweaks the Senate passed budget bill to spend more on early childhood care and education, domestic violence, rape crisis centers and public libraries
June 5th – Tuesday brought stepped up debate and political posturing about Pennsylvania’s budget.
The morning started with Pennsylvania Lt. Governor Jim Cawley putting forth a united front with the County Commissioners Association of PA (CCAP) touting the benefits of “a new way of doing business” that will result from block granting certain state funding.
Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander said the “landmark block grant” would deliver real “innovation, control and flexibility” at the local level. Cawley stressed the Corbett Administration is committed to transforming “the relationship between the state and local governments.” Berks County and Republican Commissioner Christian Leinbach praised the Governor, Cawley and Alexander citing how engaged they were in finding a way to permit “local decision-making” that leads to “improved stewardship of taxpayer dollars, and above all, more effective human services programming for our local communities.”
Left unsaid is exactly where Governor Corbett will draw the line in the sand on spending for the seven human service appropriations slated to be folded into a block grant (mental health, intellectual disabilities, county child welfare special grants, homeless assistance, Act 152 Drug and Alcohol, behavioral health services and the Human Services Development Fund). Corbett tried to make the case that given the “flexibility” he was affording the counties they could do with 20 percent or about $168 million less dollars. The Pennsylvania Senate’s bipartisan budget plan (Senate Bill 1466) approved in early May sought to blunt that cut by restoring $84 million.
The Cawley/CCAP press conference was well timed just as the capitol was filling with anxious providers, advocates and consumers frantic about the consequences of the budget on Pennsylvanians receiving behavioral health, intellectual disability, and autism services
When confronted with concerns about the block grant, including its impact on the 16,000 Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities on a waiting list for services, Cawley suggested the economic times require sacrifice. He did acknowledge that the state needs “to be there for them” but said that collides with the “harsh reality” that “we can no longer spend money we don’t have.”
So CCAP and the Corbett Administration are locked arm-in-arm on the following:
- Phase in to permit counties “to make administrative and programmatic changes to provide coordinated and integrated human services program;”
- Making a “substantial decrease in the volume of paperwork” by streamlining reporting requirements;
- Streamlining, as well, the planning for human services at the county level replacing the categorical specific plans with a “unified” plan;
Dialogue (and arm twisting) continues within a CCAP/DPW workgroup on regulatory reform and the ways counties are paid, reimbursed for services delivered.
CCAP churned out a press release along with a Myth vs. Reality one pager. In it they try to quiet concerns that providers and stakeholders “will be left out in the dark” assuring that “various public forums” will take place in the counties to prepare the “unified” human services plan. They also dispute that it will lead to a “one-size fits all” approach advocating that instead “it will end the one size fits all approach that exists today.”
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi addressed the block grant debate Tuesday saying that the desire of providers and recipients to have a “dedicated and guaranteed stream of funding” (something akin to a categorical) with the counties push for flexibility “can’t exist in the same space.” He didn’t say it was a done deal but also seemed persuaded by a “very thoughtful and comprehensive letter” from CCAP about how “block grants are best.”
The remainder of Tuesday attention shifted to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives where amendments were offered to the Senate passed budget bill.
A slew of bipartisan amendments were drafted to Senate Bill 1466 (amendments that remember had to be revenue neutral or you had to muster the votes to endure procedural gymnastic to waive the rule). In the end few were offered.
The scarcity of amendments reflected the reality that the budget negotiating window – at least from the General Assembly’s perspective – has dramatically shrunk. Prior to hitting the House Floor Tuesday, leaders from the Senate and House agreed to a spending plan that is the subject of a pow wow with Corbett tonight.
Essentially Senate and House Republican leaders have, outside a few “small changes,” found agreement. Now they have to negotiate that agreement with the Governor. Complicating negotiations will be Corbett’s insistence still today that legislators’ spend number may not be his spend number (remember the Senate plan and now the House’s view is that spending about $500 million more than put forth in February isn’t all bad).
Corbett will continue to make the case that the economy hasn’t turned the corner, revenues aren’t as good as they hoped and any budget must be sustainable beyond the upcoming year. That will be as he also makes the case for a $1.65 billion tax credit (for the next 25 years) for Shell Oil as incentive for them to bring an ethane cracker plant to Pennsylvania.
So what about revenues and the news last week that May’s revenues came in about $44 million below projections (or about 2.3 percent).
No big deal says Pileggi. He taped an On the Issues segment with the Pennsylvania Cable Network today and when asked about the May revenue number he said it would have “virtually” no impact on budget negotiations. He painted it as “slightly below estimate and not a number” sufficient enough “to pose any concern.” He also said that he doesn’t see it as a “trend.”
Shifting from the size of the pie slightly to what is within the pie the House approved several amendments today signaling some of the funding matters still a bit in play. Among the amendments supported in the House today:
- $50 million restoration for the Accountability Block Grant (ABG), which was offset in part by a $24 million reduction in the basic education line BUT Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph vowed it really was not robbing Peter to pay Paul and well there’s not enough Excedrin in the office desk drawer to try and explain it all. It relates to the Senate and House splitting some of the money the Senate put in for distressed schools. Bottom line there’s real momentum to get to the FY 11-12 spending level of $100 million for the ABG. Republicans get themselves in trouble each time they talk about it being “restored” with Democrats scolding just a few years back it was $254 million or about 60 percent more than the Republican “restoration” on the horizon. The vote was 116 to 81.
- Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Centers would see a slight bump even as they started level funded in the Corbett plan and remained that way in the Senate plan. Amendments from Representative Curtis Thomas (#10840 and #10841) will put an additional $226,000 in play for domestic violence services and $130,000 for rape crisis centers. There won’t be wild celebrations, however, as that essentially puts those lines back to 2009-2010 spending levels. Also he extracted those dollars from the Youth Development Centers in order to comply with the revenue neutral amendment rule. Thomas also took another cut from the YDCs to get some additional dollars for Trauma Centers. The DV amendment passed 190 to 7 (no votes came from Representatives Dunbar, Hutchinson, Metcalfe, Perry, Rapp, S. Smith and Haluska). The Rape Crisis Center amendment passed 196 to 1 with Democratic Haluska casting the lone no.
- Local libraries would reap a $6.5 million increase after Representative Bud George’s amendment (#10888) won bipartisan support. This amendment was supported unanimously.
- Representative Phyllis Mundy (D-Luzerne), who co-chairs the General Assembly’s Early Care and Education Caucus, didn’t ignore the revenue neutral rule tapping funding for the Governor’s Office, Lt. Governor’s Office and Department of General Services to the tune of $15.52 million for Child Care Services. That would translate into just over $8 million for Keystone Stars, $2 million to revive the TEACH and $2 million for child care subsidies. Her amendment cleared after Bucks County Republican Scott Petri questioned whether any of the restoration would be directed to “people who determine whether someone is income qualified” for a child care subsidy. Petri has had long been hot-under-the-collar about the administrative costs associated with the Child Care Information Services (CCIS) but today was more tame in his questions and once he was assured the amendment would help “working mothers” he asked his colleagues to support the amendment. Mundy also scored herself an amendment that passed unanimously.
Left out of the debate was any effort to restore the Corbett cut to General Assistance, increased funding for Family Centers, further growth in the Accountability Block Grant, and outright attempts to demand that human services not flow to counties in a block grant.
The clock is ticking toward June 30th, momentum is on the side of an early budget. However, there is this thing called reality and just because the Republicans are fully in charge doesn’t mean that they won’t bicker and get distracted or that heels get dug in somewhere in the sandbox. Stay tuned.