The Senate approved the budget bill on June 29 and sent it to Governor Corbett who signed it June 30. Senate Bill 1466, which had been approved by the House June 28, sets the Fiscal Year 2012/13 spending level at $27.656 billion, a roughly $500 million increase over Governor Corbett’s proposal. While intense advocacy on behalf of community services was successful in mitigating the 20 percent cut, the budget incorporates a detrimental 10 percent cut to funding streams intended to be part of the proposed block grant. These include Community Mental Health, Intellectual Disability Base Funding, Behavioral Health Services Initiative, and Act 152 drug and alcohol dollars.
The budget includes good news concerning the Intellectual Disability Waiver appropriation. When federal Medicaid matching funds are included, there is a total funding increase of $135 million. This increase is a tremendous achievement, reflecting the strong and unrelenting advocacy of PCPA and other members of the Behavioral Health Intellectual Disability Autism(BHIDA) Coalition. The increase breaks down as follows:
- Waiting List Initiative for 1,131 individuals – $55 million,
- implement the second year of the Benjamin Settlement – $12 million,
- restore the High Cost Case Review Cost Containment Initiative – $37 million, and
- support for proposed rates for waiver services -$31 million.
As reported in the June 29 Legislative Alert the proposed Human Services Block Grant was replaced by a pilot project. The framework and details of the pilot were not part of the budget bill, but were in a welfare code bill (House Bill 1261) originating in the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee amended the Human Services Block Grant Pilot Program language into House Bill 1261. HB 1261 also included language eliminating the General Assistance Program, though the end was delayed by one month (August 1).
The block grant language in HB 1261 is problematic, including 20 counties and no sunset date. The Senate passed HB 1261 by 31-18 and sent it to the House as amended for concurrence. Human services champion Representative Gene DiGirolamo introduced amendments to replace the language with a more conservative and measured approach and a sunset date. PCPA and BHIDA Coalition members responded to an alert asking for immediate action to urge House members to support DiGirolamo’s amendments. Many House Republicans expressed their view that the Human Services Block Grant Pilot Program represented a significant compromise by the governor and were not amenable to pushing the governor further. The effort to include the DiGirolamo amendments was not successful and HB 1261 was approved by the House 102-91.
While the BHIDA Coalition does not view the Human Services Block Grant Pilot Program language as entirely satisfactory, what was accomplished was considerable. The line items remain separate in the budget and a permanent limit of 20 counties has been established. Keeping the categories intact will maintain identification with programs for which they are meant to be used. Counties participating in the pilot are required to submit detailed plans to the Department of Public Welfare regarding how block grant funds will be allocated within the county. Prior to submission of the plan, two public hearings are required. Annual reports to the Senate Public Health and Welfare and the House Human Services Committees are mandated. There are some limitations regarding the expenditure of block grant funds on child welfare services, including congregate care and institutional placements for dependent and delinquent children.
The BHIDA Coalition will develop strategies for monitoring and measuring the impact of the $84 million cut and any funding shifts resulting from county human service plans that are approved by the Secretary of Public Welfare. PCPA thanks members for efforts to reach out to legislators to fight the implementation of a full-scale block grant program. Further questions may be addressed to Anne Leisure at firstname.lastname@example.org.