Lawmaker Proposes Pilot Program for County Block Grant

Chris Lilienthal |

With less than a week to go until the state budget deadline, policymakers in Harrisburg are still at odds over how to fund county services for children, the homeless, and people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

Governor Tom Corbett is holding firm on his plan to cut funding for a number of county human service programs and roll it all into a new block grant, despite opposition among Republicans and Democrats in the state House.

Representative Gene DiGirolamo, a Bucks County Republican who is leading the House coalition, faced off with the governor in dueling press conferences Monday afternoon. He said the governor may have a hard time getting the block grant through the House and proposed the state first test the concept in a pilot program.

House lawmakers have also been pressuring the governor to restore more of the $84 million in proposed county service cuts. But the governor says he will not agree to anything less than the 10% cut now on the table.

On the block grants, Representative DiGirolamo said there is deep concern among a large number of House members:

The block grants could add uncertainty for local providers, he said, who would be at the mercy of year-to-year funding shifts based on county decisions.

“These block grants have the potential to be more damaging than any cuts could be,” he said.

DiGirolamo said the legislature was moving too quickly—he said he had only seen specific language last week—and he needed more time to consider.

Other Republicans and Democrats in the House share his concerns, DiGirolamo said, possibly enough to “put the vote at risk.” He said he and others favor creating a one-year pilot program.

The deadlock over human services funding appears to be holding up the budget. With only five days to go before the June 30 deadline, lawmakers and the public have yet to get line-by-line details of the budget framework announced last week, and insiders say a lack of agreement on human services funding is a reason.