The Warren County Commissioners are working on a human services plan in light of changes in how the state provides funds for those services.
The plan outlines how a number of human services activities would be administered in the county under a possible block grant system the state is testing to replace a number of individual service funding streams.
The block grant system is an initiative the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has pursued for a number of years in the hopes of gaining greater flexibility in how human services funds are used.
"One of the problems we've had in the past," said Commissioner John Bortz, "is we've had surpluses in one silo and deficits in another."
Under a block grant system, the county would receive a consolidated lump sum block grant in place of seven separate funding streams. The county could then allocate those funds amongst the seven programs where needed rather than being constrained as to what program funding was earmarked.
"I think we've been tap dancing on this for the entire ten years I've been in office," Commissioner John Eggleston said.
The block grant system being tested trades a ten percent reduction in funding for the programs included in the grant for the increased flexibility.
The state is currently testing the block grant system in 20 "pilot" counties. Warren County applied to serve as a "pilot" county, but was denied, Forest-Warren Human Services Director Mary Kushner said.
As the state is considering extending the program, Forest-Warren Human Services was required to prepare a services plan outlining how it anticipates a block grant would be utilized to be submitted to the state.
Discussion at the hearing turned to funding calculations with a question from Joe Scully.
"You say Warren and Forest County (referring to joint human services)," Scully said. "Forest County gets to count 2,000 people in prison. How do we remedy that situation? I don't think prisoners from all over the state should count for determining finances."
"The sword cuts both ways," Bortz replied. "A few years ago, when the state hospital was running... When the hospital was at capacity we had a population which included a significant number of which were residents at the state hospital."
The commissioners approved submitting the plan and moving forward with other steps in the block grant application process at their meeting which followed the hearing.
"I am cautiously optimistic that this will be successful," Bortz said.