Not Exactly a Mahogany-paneled Corporate Boardroom

By Kate Atkins, Third and State

A hundred days after passage of the state budget, it is too soon to fully assess the impact of cuts to human services, Montgomery County's administrator for behavioral health and developmental disabilities told a group of 50 consumers and social service providers at a budget forum last week.

Still, Administrator Eric Goldstein told the forum at the Norristown Recovery and Education Center that he has concerns about the state's move toward block grants for human services funding. Unlike Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties, Montgomery County did not apply to be part of this year’s new pilot block grant for the Human Services Development Fund.

Eric Goldstein was joined by speaker after speaker who testified to the importance of the modest dollars invested in prevention and community supports for people struggling with mental illness or substance abuse.

One speaker, Troy, a solidly built man with a confident manner and a winning smile, said people call him a “success story,” but he remembered the days when he struggled with drug addiction. He described how he would walk into the Norristown Center and feel a lift from the friendly and familiar faces of the staff, who would ask him how he was doing.

“I’m looking for a job,” he would tell them.

“Really?” they would reply.

“No,” he would admit. “Not really.”

Through the Center, which is run by the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Troy built up his self-esteem and was able to find work counseling others.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t cost a lot of money to maintain a drop-in center in Norristown. Eric Goldstein, gesturing to the neatly-painted cinder block walls and freshly waxed linoleum floor, pointed out that it wasn’t exactly a mahogany-paneled corporate boardroom. But the cost of not having local community resources like this one would be enormous.

Another speaker began by saying she had not wanted to speak, but realized she had to. She was an elementary school teacher, she began, from a family of ministers, educators, and lawyers. In her late thirties, she went through a difficult period after the death of her mother and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She was not able to keep her job. Her family did not believe the diagnosis, she told us, and shut their doors to her.

“Strangers had to take me in,” she said, tears in her eyes. “Strangers.”

She is now living in the Halfway There shelter as she puts her life back together.

Eric Goldstein closed the evening by reminding the crowd that we are in this together. The line, he said, between people with mental illness and the rest of us is very thin.

Representative Matt Bradford also spoke, reminding us that the state is facing hard economic times but does have choices in how to respond to the challenging fiscal reality. He cited the Legislature’s decision to give up to $1.6 billion in tax credits to Shell Oil at the same time the state is cutting funding for human services.

Get more information on how you can advocate with Better Choices for Pennsylvania for supports for people struggling with mental illness and substance abuse.

Combine and Cut: Governor’s Block Grant Plan for County Human Services

A blog post by Chris Lilienthal, originally published at Third and State.

A week after Governor Tom Corbett rolled out his state budget, many people are still trying to make sense of it.

Perhaps the biggest reshuffling in the Department of Public Welfare budget involves the expansion of the Human Services Development Fund, a flexible funding stream used for a wide variety of human services at the county level. This fund has been repeatedly reduced over the past few year. The new budget combines and cuts funding for other programs into a single Human Services Development Fund Block Grant.

All told, the new block grant is funded at nearly $674 million. That reflects a cut of more than $168 million, or 20%. Portions of a variety of health and human service programs ranging from homeless assistance to mental health services to protecting children from abuse would be impacted (see the table below).

Must Reads: Where Is the Shared Sacrifice?

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

When the economy is as weak as it is today, the prudent approach to the state budget is a balanced approach that looks to cut spending and raise additional revenue. A Patriot-News editorial this morning points out that nonprofit groups providing services to victims of domestic violence and rape, as well as people with severe health problems, have been particularly hard hit by the last several years of budget cutting.

The last couple of years, especially 2011, have been tough ones because of state funding cuts, and this year might not be much better. As lawmakers and the governor look at another difficult budget – introduced in February – they need to think hard about what further reductions in funding to charitable groups will mean in communities across the state…

Some of the testimonials in the latest survey [by the United Way] show the grim reality for many people seeking help:

A shelter director said, “For the second year in a row, our shelter has turned away more battered women and their children than we were able to house, due to lack of beds.”

“We are unable to provide health center services as we were before. A nurse is only at the center 16 hours per week vs. 40 hours,” one service stated.

“We’ve had to tell people wanting to get their GED that they had to seek services elsewhere,” a provider said.

“Ms. Smith has ALS and needs a device to be able to communicate in her last days. However, she is on a waiting list to borrow the equipment she needs,” added another.

The Altoona Mirror this morning reports that Blair county officials expect that a new round of budget cuts could further reduce funding for programs that provide mental health services, support for people with autism and child welfare programs.

CCAP Governmental Relations Manager Linda Schaefer advised county leaders to be aware of reduced allocations for state Department of Public Welfare services, specifically mental health, intellectual disabilities, early intervention, behavioral health, autism, child welfare and the Human Services Development Fund.

“Although it is not yet clear how the cuts will impact county funding, the line items of greatest concern to counties will take a significant hit,” Schaefer said.

While shelters turn away the needy and counties brace themselves for another round of cuts to critical public health services, we still don’t have a drilling tax.

Consol Energy has crafted a 2012 capital budget that calls for investing $1.7 billion in development efforts, up $300 million from last year as the company expands its presence in the region’s natural gas fields and increases coal production…

The energy company plans to spend $575 million to develop its assets in the Marcellus Shale gas field, anticipating 122 horizontal wells that include 39 wells in the liquid-rich portions of the play. The company spent $427 million on Marcellus development last year.