Michalik expresses concern about cut in human services funding in Berks County

READING, Pa. - Dr. Edward B. Michalik, Berks County Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities Program Administrator, presented a review of FY 2017/2018 Block Grant at a public hearing during Thursday morning’s County Commissioners’ meeting and expressed his concerns about the effects the passing of House Bill 218 would have on Human Services in Berks County.

He said, “About $196,000 of Block Grant funds will be removed” if the bill is passed. According to Michalik, the bill would “kill the suicide prevention task force,” increase demand on services due to cuts in adult and juvenile probation systems, affect preventative services that keep people from going deeper into the system, and eliminate services to hundreds of Berks County residents.

Berks County was a part of the initial Pilot of the Block Grant Project, and Michalik said, “This money is important to our county because it’s flexible and allows us to move the money as needed within the community.” Today, all counties have the opportunity to participate in the program.

In Berks County, funding combined under the Block Grant include:  Mental Health Base Funds (MH), Intellectual Disabilities Base Funds (ID), Human Services Development Fund (HSDF), Homeless Assistance Program (HAP), Behavioral Health Services Initiative (BHSI), and Act 152 Drug and Alcohol Funds (D&A).

Here is a summary of the number of county residents served in FY 2015/2016 under the Block Grant Program:
• Mental Health Based Funds -  9,705
• Intellectual Disabilities Base Funds - 762
• Human Services Development Fund - 3,214
• Homeless Assistance Program - 1,243
• Behavioral Health Services Initiative and Act 152 - 879

Here is a summary of the Allocation Projects for FY 2016/2017 under the Block Grant Program:
• Mental Health Based Funds -  $8,744,583
• Intellectual Disabilities Base Funds – $3,488,898
• Human Services Development Fund - $322,352
• Homeless Assistance Program - $455,873
• Behavioral Health Services - $842,788
• Initiative and Act 152 - $357,930
• Child Welfare Special Grants - $764,910

Michalik said, “A large part of money [in Mental Health] has shifted over the past 20 years to serve people in the community - in our community homes, in our family living arrangements and with family members - who are moving away from institutional care.” He said these numbers support the closing of the Hamburg Center. This is a trend seen throughout the country. 

Regarding the Human Services Development Fund, Michalik said, “It seems to be a favored place to cut things. These are important services that are delivered under these funds and help keep people out of higher levels of care.” HSDF funds, which according to Michalik were meant to fill gaps that other human service agencies couldn’t cover, include aging, adult services, and specialized services, and currently fund services such as home delivered meals, child abuse intervention, and prevention activities. “My fear is that with the cuts that are proposed, we’re going to lose more of this money and more people will not be served,” Michalik said. “It [HSDF funding] is half of what it was 15 years ago, and it’s on the chopping block at this point.”

Jeffrey Gregro, deputy chief probation officer, said, “Our outcomes with Multisystemic Therapy continue to be excellent. It is a blueprint for violence prevention program identified as a program that is effective especially with the delinquency population. It is an intensive service delivered to juveniles and families. The most important thing: families. We continue to have positive outcomes. At least between 80 and 85% of juveniles who go through this program do not get re-arrested and are not committed to a subsequent residential placement.”  He also shared that every school district in the county has referred youth to the Advancing School Attendance Program this year, and there has been a 42% decrease in school absence since 2012. He concluded, “The funding of these services are essential to us, and they’ve been effective thus far.”

George J. Vogel, Jr., Executive Director of the Council on Chemical Abuse, described the Warm Hand-off program which is funded by the Block Grant, “As a result of the opioid crisis, the ERs are filled up with a lot of folks who are there as a result of an overdose. Some are fortunate; they’re able to be revived. Some are not; they’ll die. Of the people that survive, we’re successful in getting about 70% of them set up for treatment.”

Michalik concluded, “If we’re allowed to use money in a flexible way, I hope we will stem the tide of needing more and more money. Flexibility is the key as seen here in Berks County, so I see us on the verge of turning the corner if our policy makers and our legislators make the right decisions.”

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