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Human services money might run out in Pa.

August 18, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Franklin County, Pa., officials on Tuesday said they could run out of money to pay for human services by late September if the state does not reach a budget compromise.

Funding programs for children, mentally and physically ill adults, single mothers and the homeless at the current rate will in five weeks deplete the county's savings account to $5.5 million, the lowest amount advised in audits, according to Fiscal Director Teresa Beckner.

She said the county is still owed $2.9 million in reimbursements for services performed in 2008-09. Another $3.4 million would have been received by now for 2009-10 if not for state leaders failing to negotiate a budget.

Most of the missed payments will be worked out eventually, but others are major red flags, such as nothing paid to the Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MTAP) since March, Beckner said.

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"The concern with these is the state's own cash flow. There's an off chance we're not going to get paid for all of them," Beckner said.

The county commissioners shook their heads in frustration and asked questions during the presentation by Beckner and Assistant Fiscal Director Becky Greenawalt. They preliminarily mentioned four possible fixes -- layoffs, stopping or delaying payments to providers, stopping services or borrowing money.

Presented as "the worst-case scenario" by Beckner, the leading spending proposal, Senate Bill 850, would mean a $1.6 million (7 percent) reduction in human-services contributions. Many of the offerings are legally required of the county.

The county spends money to provide services, then the state reimburses at a rate it deems appropriate, Greenawalt said. This often creates a gap between expenditures and revenues, she said.

"The fact is whenever they cut at the state level, that gets pushed down to the county level," Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski said.

The commissioners repeatedly said they want the state to make budget decisions so they can respond accordingly.

"We're hoping the state does the right thing, funds these programs," County Administrator John Hart said.

"It gives us uncertainty on how our own budget will perform for calendar year 2009," Beckner said.

Affected programs include ones for children and youth, the aging, those who need temporary financial assistance, those with developmental disabilities, and those needing treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.

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