Counties Clamor to Qualify for Flexible Funding

Thirty counties have applied for slots in the Department of Public Welfare’s Human Services County Block Grant pilot program.  Unfortunately, the pilot program was limited to 20 counties.

The landmark program is the first human services block grant in the nation to combine health and general welfare programs with performance measures and competition. The block grant gives counties the ability to combine funding for seven different human service programs—such as mental health and drug and alcohol services—into one line item, giving counties maximum flexibility.

The block grant received bi-partisan support at the local level and was christened a “godsend” by Democrat Jo Ellen Litz, president of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

The original proposal, as advocated by the Secretary of Public Welfare, Gary Alexander, would have included all 67 counties. But instead of listening to the pleas of local officials, SEIU and their legislative patron Rep. Gene DiGirolamo insisted counties couldn’t be trusted and that competition based on performance couldn’t possibly better serve the poor.  

Thanfully, special interests were unable to kill the landmark reform, but they did succeed in reducing the block grant to a 20-slot pilot program. Now 10 counties that believe they can better serve the needy with flexible funding, will be forced to remain in a system that squelches innovation, disregards the unique needs of Pennsylvania’s diverse population and ignores performance.

For more on how the Human Services County Block Grant works read our policy memo on recent welfare reforms.