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Capitolwire: Wolf Budget Proposal Spurs Debate on Mental Health Funding
By Robert Swift

HARRISBURG (Feb. 14) — A budget proposal by Gov. Tom Wolf is spurring a new debate about providing more state mental health services during this time of pandemic-related stress.

The governor proposes spending $36.6 million from the taxpayer-supported General Fund in Fiscal Year 2022-23 to restore much of a decade-old cut in state aid to county-run mental health programs.

He would also direct $75 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds for support payments to help keep and hire new employees for qualifying home and community service providers.

A 21-member Mental Health Safety Net Coalition sent a letter Monday to lawmakers asking them to consider the proposed $36.6 million increase as a starting point in budget negotiations.

“The governor’s proposed increase will help offset the loss in purchasing power due to a decade of level funding,” wrote the coalition that includes service providers, hospitals, treatment centers and professional groups. “This money is critical to help counties get back to the effective level of resources they had 10 years ago, but it does not even begin to address all the gaps in our mental health system or surging demand for mental health services as we enter the third year of the global pandemic.”

Not only has the pandemic increased demand for services, it has also led to significant health staff shortages and increases in suicides and opioid deaths, the coalition said.

Also the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania issued a statement Monday calling on lawmakers to support Wolf’s proposal. It would restore two-thirds of a 10 percent cut to the budget line item in 2012 if enacted.

“If the funding continues to be uneven with the growing demand, counties will continue to struggle to in meeting the needs of their residents,” said CCAP President and Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller.

A key feature of county mental health programs is they are available to the entire community regardless of income, said Brinda Penyak, CCAP deputy executive director.

CCAP made rebuilding a “crumbling” mental health system its top priority this year. For the past six decades, counties have carried the responsibility to provide and contract for a range of community-based mental health services, including crisis intervention, treatment, education and prevention.

“We would strongly support advance planning and (mental health funding) increases that are practical and sustainable to ensure increased system availability for the long term,” said Dr. Kathy Quick, executive director of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumer Association while voicing concern that the proposed funding hikes for this year can’t be sustained in the future.

The issue of pandemic-related mental health challenges facing the general population and students as well has been the subject of several legislative hearings during the past two years.

The Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee held a hearing last month focusing on mental health issues facing agricultural workers. Pennsylvania has received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide more resources to support mental health programs in rural areas by linking to national hotline networks and providing education and training, said state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding at that hearing.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

RCPA staff reviewed the Governor’s proposed budget, and while many details still need to be sorted out, RCPA can provide some high-level facts about the proposed budget from the House Democrat Appropriations Committee 2022/23 Executive Budget Proposal At–A-Glance and the Governor’s 2022/23 Executive Budget Spreadsheet. Of note, please see pages 12–13 for the Department of Human Services line items and page 6 for the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

The highlights of the Governor’s proposed budget include:

Education Funding

  • Spending $43.7 billion in state General Funds;
  • $1.55 billion, a 24% increase, in basic education funding;
  • $1.25 billion to be distributed through the fair funding formula;
  • $300 million in Level Up funding to the 100 most underfunded districts; and
  • $200 million, a 16% increase, in special education funding.


Proposed increase to state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour effective July 1, 2022, including tipped workers, with 50 cent annual increases up to $15 per hour ($74.6 million direct revenue increase).

Protecting the Most Vulnerable

  • $91.25 million ($190.1 million total funds) to increase MA rates for skilled nursing facilities, effective January 2023, to comply with regulatory changes planned for July 2023;
  • $50 million, or a 44% increase to state supplemental programs for aged, blind, and individuals with disabilities, to increase the personal care home state supplement from $439.30 to $1,351.80 per month;
  • $75 million in federal funds to recruit and retain behavioral health providers;
  • $36.6 million to invest in critical county behavioral health services;
  • $15 million in federal funds to stabilize payments to substance use disorder treatment providers and assist with pandemic related expenses;
  • NEW: $14.3 million to increase the monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit from $20 to $35 for 75,000 to 95,000 seniors and individuals with disabilities;
  • NEW: $280,000 to implement Agency with Choice, preserving the ability for home and community-based waiver participants to choose their worker while allowing workers to obtain the support of an agency;
  • $18.8 million to serve an additional 832 individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism currently waiting for services;
  • $1 million to provide community placements for individuals residing in intermediate care facilities;
  • $1.25 million to discharge 20 individuals from state hospitals through the Community Hospital Integration Project Program (CHIPP);
  • $2.4 million for Department of Aging and Department of Human Services to strengthen older adult protective services (8 positions), create a child welfare crisis response team (4 positions), and support increased regulatory, licensing, budgetary, and administrative functions (30 positions) through increasing complement;
  • NEW: $8 million to extend postpartum coverage for birthing parents eligible for Medical Assistance to 12 months;
  • $15 million, a 77% increase, to implement additional evidence-based home visiting and family support services to 3,800 additional families;
  • $1.8 million to support court-appointed volunteer advocacy; and
  • NEW: $10 million for State Disaster Assistance, a new initiative to provide disaster assistance to individuals and to improve access to safe, secure, and weathertight homes.

In addition to the above proposed funding, the Governor and Democratic legislative leaders support allocating the unused American Rescue Plan funds from last year’s budget to various programs, which are outlined in the Democrat’s American Rescue Plan Act — State Fiscal Recovery plan, to help Pennsylvanians rather than letting the funds be transferred to the General Fund to sit in reserve.

The above information is a high-level overview of the Governor’s budget proposal. The specific line items contained in the Governor’s 2022/23 Executive Budget Spreadsheet are the overall dollars allocated for health and human services. The Department of Human Services (DHS) has not yet released their Budget Blue Book, which breaks down these line items and provides a detailed dollar amount allocated to specific human service programs. We are being told the DHS Blue Book should be available with this specific information at the end of February or the first week of March. Once RCPA obtains the Blue Book and reviews it, we will provide members with a more detailed summary and analysis.

As a reminder, the Governor’s Proposed Budget is just that: a proposal. The General Assembly will now hold budget hearings; a complete hearing list can be found here. The General Assembly and the Governor will conduct budget negotiations after the House and Senate budget hearings conclude to hopefully finalize the Commonwealth’s 2022/23 budget by June 30. If you have any questions, please contact Jack Phillips.

December 22, 2020
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Harrisburg, PA – Today, Governor Tom Wolf thanked congressional lawmakers for responding to the needs of the American people and passing a second federal COVID-19 Emergency Relief Package. The governor released the following statement:

“The COVID-19 relief package passed yesterday by Congress is long overdue. The emergency relief funds authorized under the CARES Act were crucial to helping our nation survive the spring surge of COVID-19, but those funds expired while desperate need remained. Americans continue to struggle due to the economic consequences of this global pandemic.

“Now, as our commonwealth and our nation face an unprecedented surge of COVID-19, this new aid package is a necessary step toward meeting the needs of our people and helping Pennsylvania families and businesses survive the upheaval caused by this dangerous virus. I thank all the members of Congress who worked to pass this bipartisan package.

“This aid package provides direct payments to individuals, protects unemployment benefits, funds a new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans, supports education, establishes rental assistance, and secures funding for contact tracing, testing, and vaccine distribution. It will provide vital support for individuals, families, workers, and small businesses in Pennsylvania.

“It is a vital step in our efforts to meet the needs of Pennsylvanians, but it cannot be the last step. More funding is needed for restaurants and bars as well as the service industry more broadly. More funding is needed for direct payments to individuals and families. More funding is needed for state and local governments and the critical services they provide.

“We should celebrate the aid this bill has secured, but we need to continue advocating for the additional support that Pennsylvanians – and all Americans – need during these difficult times. Nine months have passed between the CARES Act and this second COVID-19 relief package. For our congressional leaders, I have one plea: Do not let your constituents suffer for another nine months without the additional aid they desperately need.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Lyndsay Kensinger