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Cuts force Franklin Co. agencies to reduce services

August 27, 2003|by DON AINES

Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series focusing on the effects of state budget cutbacks on everyday services in Franklin County.




chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Cuts in Pennsylvania state subsidies to human services programs are forcing county agencies and contract providers to reduce levels of service or look for alternative funding until such time as the Legislature and governor agree to restore the money.

The biggest hit for many counties was a 90 percent cut in the Human Services Development Fund, used in Franklin County primarily to pay for contract counseling services, said G. Warren Elliott, chairman of the board of county commissioners.

In 2002, the county received $270,000, a figure cut to $50,000 for the 2003-04 state budget year that began July 1. That is not a 90 percent cut, but Doug Price, the county's human services administrator, said state law requires at least $50,000 for each county.

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Because of the cuts, the county terminated contracts with four community-based providers, Price said. Catholic Charities and Crossings, a teen parenting program run by Family Health Services, each received $25,000 last year. The Escape Parent/Child Center got $17,000 and Easter Seals Deaf Services received $8,000.

Price estimated that county funding to the four programs provided service to more than 350 clients. One county human services position was left vacant because of the cuts, as well as a part-time position.

Franklin-Fulton County Drug and Alcohol also saw deep cuts in state funding, Price said.

"The initial losses were about two-thirds, or $500,000. With some internal changes we made, it's only about half," he said.

Drug and Alcohol did not fill one vacancy because of the cuts and another employee was transferred to another program. The number of case workers was reduced from three to two, he said.

The cuts also mean less drug and alcohol counseling through the private contractors used by the county, Price said. The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare provided some supplemental funds in July and August, but Price said he does not expect that to continue.

"Typically, we were able to serve 40 to 50 teen parents and their families a year," said Ann Spottswood, the Crossings program coordinator. The number of home visitation counselors has been cut in half to one after Crossings decided not to fill one vacancy.

"With just one home visitor, it's very difficult to meet the demands of the community," she said. "We are continuously searching for grant opportunities."

"We have more of a buffer," said Carolyn George, the counseling office director for Catholic Charities. Supported by the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., she said the wide-ranging counseling services are getting by, but the $25,000 cut "is real close to the equivalent of one full-time position."

"There's a public safety function of counseling," George said. People denied access to drug and alcohol, mental health, family or other counseling "become more dangerous to themselves and others," she said.

George said Catholic Charities is its clients to make some kind of monetary contribution, even those with very low incomes, to help stave off program cuts.

Commissioner Cheryl Plummer said the cuts "affect the neediest and most vulnerable of our citizens," people who often have no insurance to cover the services.

Commissioner Bob Thomas said reduced counseling could mean an increase in the county prison population, something the over-crowded facility can ill-afford.

"We have been able to receive some money from other sources," said Leah Kadar-Hodd, executive director of Escape, which provides counseling aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect. Parenting classes, home visitation and other services will continue for the time being.

That is not the case for Easter Seals Deaf Services, according to President Bob Hoover.

"We have no money to pay our case manager," he said. That means no assistance for deaf people who need a liaison to help them get medical, legal, financial and other assistance, he said.

"To be cut back is one thing, but to be wiped out is another matter," Hoover said.

"I voted against the budget because of those cuts," said State Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Franklin. He said he believes there is support in the House for restoring some of the cuts passed earlier this year, but the issue remains finding the money.

"I think it will require a mixture of various revenues, some taxes, some fees," Coy said.

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