Op-Ed: block grants would allow commissioners to effectively use funds

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By Terence Farrell and Ryan Costello, Chester County Commissioners

Chester County Commissioners Terence Farrell and Ryan Costello

During Governor Tom Corbett’s recent budget address, he suggested a change in the way funds for human services are distributed and allowed to be utilized by county commissioners. As Chester County Commissioners, we endorse this concept and urge the Pennsylvania legislature to include block grant funding when the Commonwealth’s budget is finalized.

Chester County is one of the most affluent counties in the not only Pennsylvania, but the country. We have been recognized as one of the top places in the United States to live, work and raise a family. While Chester County is a desirable place to live, our citizens have many needs, especially in the human services area.

The needs are increasing and government funding, in this depressed economy, is decreasing. As commissioners, we need to be able to spend our valuable resources where the money will do the most good for people. The block grant program will allow us to do so. In prior years, specific amounts of money were allotted by Harrisburg for specific programs. At times, too little money was given to some programs and overfunding for others.

Recently the commissioners were given a sobering report on the shortfall of funding for human services in Chester County. Pennsylvania’s expected revenues have been decreasing, thus causing a need to decrease funding for programs. We applaud Governor Corbett for holding the line on spending and resisting deficit spending, a practice that the previous governor used to mask deteriorating economic conditions.

Chester County is expected to receive 20 percent less in funding from Pennsylvania and federal funds are not expected to cover all of the cuts. We, as commissioners, must still provide needed services to our residents.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania also endorses the block grant funding program.  In fact, the association provided the Corbett administration proposals for piloting block grant programs. Governor Corbett’s concept is similar to the suggestions of the state association.

For the past nine years, funding for human services has been cut and it is becoming difficult for counties to find the money for the needed programs. The proposed block grant program deals with seven specific programs. With the change allowing us more flexibility in the use of funds, we can maximize the impact of the money.

As the association stated, block grants must assure complete flexibility for counties to determine where to spend funds most effectively, remove burdensome regulations, and allow movement of dollars outside categorical areas, with a single planning, audit and accounting stream to allow counties to survive in a reduced funding environment. Details are crucial.

Governor Corbett and Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley, a former county commissioner, understand the need for county commissioners to direct funds where most useful. The block grant program gives us flexibility to allow us to better serve the people of Chester County.

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