Budget forum focuses on Franklin County human services

Event drew about 75 people to the Franklin Fire Hall

April 05, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Pete Tartline, executive deputy secretary of the budget, discusses Pennsylvania's budget situation Thursday in Chambersburg, Pa.
By Jennifer Fitch, Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — State budget woes and their effect on human services are hurting vulnerable populations, including young children, physically and intellectually disabled adults, and the homeless, Franklin County, Pa., officials said Thursday.

An afternoon forum about Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed 2012-13 budget drew about 75 people to the Franklin Fire Hall. Hosted by the United Way of Franklin County, the event featured remarks by a deputy budget secretary, the Franklin County Commissioners and human services providers.

Megan Shreve spoke on behalf of South Central Community Action Programs, which operates homeless shelters, promotes self-sufficiency, pays residents’ utility and rent in emergencies, and provides subsidies for child care. The organization works in Adams and Franklin counties.

“Six years ago, SCCAP was serving 16,000 people. Today, we’re serving 32,000,” she said.

Human services dollars from the state do not support “cheats” or “con artists,” according to Rick Wynn, administrator of Franklin County Human Services.


“Most of the dwindling dollars we get go to children, adults and aging individuals,” he said.

For 2012-13, Franklin County is facing another $1.3 million in cuts, with the lion’s share of that amount affecting people who previously were discharged from state mental health institutions.

The people discharged from those institutions could end up readmitted or in jails without their needs being met locally, commissioners Chairman David Keller said.

Pete Tartline presented information about the governor’s budget proposal, which serves as the starting point for negotiations that are supposed to result in the legislature passing a spending plan by June 30.

“We’re going to align spending with available revenue. ... The budget really does maintain funding in core areas — public safety, basic education, and basic health and human services,” said Tartline, executive deputy secretary of the budget.

In 2007-08, revenue was about $27 billion, but it dipped in the years following. The state took on an additional $3 billion in mandated costs in those years, Tartline said.

Although revenues have rebounded to the $27 billion mark, the mandated costs remain, and debt service and pensions require hefty payments, Tartline said. Pennsylvania owes the federal government $3 billion for unemployment compensation, he said.

The state would need an additional $1.4 billion just to provide the same services as last year, he said.

Only 9 percent of the budget is discretionary, Tartline said. For 2011-12, 130 line items were eliminated and 260 reduced, he said.

Any line item remaining with even $1 of funding is considered “a core function of government we need to continue funding,” Tartline said. The governor is committed to each of those line items, he said.

Tony Ross, president of the United Way of Pennsylvania, said Chambersburg’s forum was the eighth in a series of town hall-style meetings about the budget.

The United Way of Pennsylvania surveyed 800 agencies, finding 69 percent of them experienced cuts in 2011-12, and 80 percent have experienced increased demand in difficult economic times, Ross said.

Private fundraising is flat or decreased, Ross said.

“People are laying off staff. They’re canceling programs and cutting back on hours,” he said.

The Franklin County Commissioners are considering privatizing some mental health services to provide offerings with less red tape. Also, the state government might start providing some human services funding as block grants with fewer administrative requirements.

Tartline outlined several budget proposals, including changes to how retailers collect sales tax, what cigarette and realty transfer taxes’ revenue is used for, and where slots dollars are allocated.

Corbett’s proposals for higher education have been criticized. He proposed 20 percent cuts for the State System of Higher Education — for colleges such as Shippensburg and Bloomsburg universities — and 30 percent cuts for state-related universities, including Penn State and Temple universities.

“Higher education was the last item that was addressed. Virtually every item was cut,” Tartline said.

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