Human Services Programs Must Deal with Wasteful Spending

Last week, you couldn’t swing a dead cat in the state capitol without hitting someone protesting Gov. Corbett’s welfare spending reductions. The governor proposed combining six human service line items, such as Mental Health Services and Homeless Assistance, into a block grant that gives counties more discretion. In return for flexibility, Gov. Corbett hopes to control rapidly increasing welfare spending by reducing human services appropriations by 20 percent.

Yesterday at a public hearing (Subscription only), families expressed concern about spending cuts and the impact on 15,456 people waiting for services. The only solution they offer is more spending, and they don’t care if it means higher taxes and a higher cost-of-living for everyone else.

In Pennsylvania, welfare spending has increased three times faster than the rest of the state budget since FY 2002-03. If we continue down this path, you can rest assured living expenses, thanks to tax increases, will rise. But there is a way to cut the waiting list without increasing taxpayer’s heavy burden — eliminate wasteful spending.

Last fall, Department of Public Welfare Executive Deputy Secretary Tim Costa testified the lack of clear fiscal controls created a large amount of waste and prevented the department from serving more people. The Office of Developmental Programs (ODP), which serves those with intellectual disabilities, saw a budget increase of $664 million, or 60 percent, from FY 2004-05 to FY 2010-11, yet the number of individuals served increased only 27 percent. Costa explained:

All of us want the same thing – to provide quality services for those in need through a sustainable, successful program with clear and fair rules of the road for families and providers to follow. Lack of clear rules carries a real price. With almost 16,000 persons with intellectual disabilities on the waiting list hoping to enroll into the system and get the services they need, the need for reform is urgent.

So what kind of waste is occurring? One example is the policy of paying for empty nursing home beds. If a patient leaves a facility for a hospital stay or other temporary absence for treatment, the federal government will match payments for up to 30 days to reserve the bed. However, state rules allow payment for an empty bed for 48 days, and if the patient leaves for medical treatment, there is no limit to how many days ODP will pay to keep that bed empty. Between these temporary vacancies and permanent vacancies, ODP shouldered $30 million in state costs just in the last fiscal year.

Gov. Corbett’s welfare proposals are not about punishing the disabled, but maximizing the number of people that can be served with a sustainable budget.