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PA Budget Would Add $400-Million To Human Services

TRANSFORMING HEALTH (WITF) - Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's $34.1 billion proposal includes a $400 million increase to the Department of Human Services. That takes the total ask to $12.9 billion for the agency, which administers an array of programs such as medical assistance, food assistance and mental health and substance abuse services.

Many of those programs blend state and federal funds, and even with the requested funding increase, the department will lose $1 billion under this proposal, mostly due to an $854 million reduction in federal money.

Still, the department has finessed some new efforts into its plans.

More: Gov. Wolf proposes tax-free budget heavy on workforce reinvestment

Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller pointed to a $15 million allocation that would increase help for people with intellectual disabilities and autism.

The plan addresses a recurring problem of long wait lists for services by adding funding to the Community Living Waiver, Miller said.

"Not everyone who has an intellectual disability or autism is getting all the services that they currently need or may need in the future so this initiative will allow us to serve 765 individuals who are on, particularly, the emergency wait lists."

The allocation also includes funding to help about 100 people who might experience unanticipated emergencies through a program called the Consolidated Waiver, Miller said.

More: Winners and losers in Gov. Tom Wolf's budget proposal

Other Human Services programs include new training opportunities to help people become self-sufficient, and a "Parent Pathways" initiative that helps single mothers trying to get a college degree or a training credential, Miller said. The initiative is based on an existing program at Misericordia University.

"This is a program that is ending generational poverty, because not only are these moms gradutating with a college degree, but their kids are growing up on a college campus and they're graduating from college," she said.

Wolf says he's also proposing to renew key Health Department efforts, including efforts to prevent opioid addiction. While much of the multi-agency response to the opioid crisis relies on federal dollars, the budget plan has added $1.5 million to provide the opioid overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

Wolf's proposal is just the start of an annual budget-making process that will be decided largely by the Republican-controlled legislature. Early reports show the proposal, which doesn't include a personal tax increase, has drawn less acrimony from the legislature than in recent years.