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DiGirolamo Says Claims of Human Service Block Grant Success Premature

HARRISBURG – Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks), chairman of the House Human Services Committee, today said that he is puzzled about a press conference by the administration to tout the success of a block grant program designed to help fund human services at the county level.

The Human Services Block Grant pilot program was authorized last June and only went into effect in January for the 20 counties that were chosen to be a part of the program. Under the act, counties are permitted to move money among seven already under-funded health and human services line items.

“I’ve been asking basic, essential business questions about the block grant pilot program for some time and the Department of Public Welfare has been unable to answer any of them,” said DiGirolamo.

In the first year of the already existing pilot program, up to 20 percent of funding can be taken from one service and given to another without permission from the Department of Public Welfare. In subsequent years, this percentage continues to increase. In essence, the pilot program pits seven under-funded human services and the people they serve against one another for funding at the county level. These services are: Mental Health-Community Programs, Intellectual Disabilities-Community-Base, County Child Welfare, Human Services Development Fund, Homeless Assistance, Behavioral Health Services Initiative and Act 152.

In a Jan. 29, 2013 letter to the Department of Public Welfare (attached), DiGirolamo asked for information about each of 20 county plans submitted to DPW including: Did the county take funding away from any of the seven human services line items? If so, how much and what is it to be spent on? How does this plan compare to the prior year’s spending in each category?

As of today, DiGirolamo has not received an answer.

DiGirolamo pointed to many other reasons why this press conference by the administration seems premature:

  • The 20 counties just received approval to move forward with their plans in January 2013. For this reason, any claims of success at this point are premature and speculative.
  • Questions on county liability remain unanswered by an unsigned memo from DPW. Although the Commonwealth enjoys some protection from liability, counties do not have the same level of protection when services are denied. Additional legal concerns may arise regarding federal maintenance of effort requirements under the Affordable Care Act.
  • Many of the examples provided by the counties of the success of the block grant seem to be strategies that have been available to the counties prior to passage of the block grant legislation.
  • The single largest item included in the block grant is the Mental Health Services Community Programs appropriation, which constitutes almost 75 percent of the block grant funds. More than 50 percent of the funds in this line item are dedicated to pay for placement and support of people who were released from state hospitals (CHIPP and SIPP dollars). Specific commitments were made for these funds, which have now been shoveled into the block grant.
  • There is no provision for an independent evaluation of the “pilot” program before moving forward to additional counties. This failure to incorporate such an evaluation occurred despite repeated requests during legislative debate. Without such data, announcing success is not analysis.
  • Consumer and provider groups were excluded from the original block grant planning process and are reluctant to raise concerns about the impact of the block grant for fear that their “funding source” – i.e. – the county will exact retribution on them. 

DiGirolamo has authored legislation, House Bill 806, which passed out of his committee last week, to replace the block grant program with another funding structure. The legislation will replace the 20 county pilot Human Services Block Grant with a statewide program which allows all 67 counties to have the flexibility to carry over unspent human service money into the following fiscal year without having to return it back to the state.

DiGirolamo notes that the original team at the Department of Public Welfare has now left Pennsylvania. “This whole process concerns me,” he said. “It is not the kind of evidence-based policy that the citizens of the Commonwealth expect and deserve from our government.”

Representative Gene DiGirolamo
18th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact:  Jennifer Keaton
717.705.2094 /
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