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Proposed state cuts to child welfare programs criticized

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By Brad Bumsted and Jodi Weigland,
Friday, March 11, 2011
 

A survey of 1,000 nonprofit organizations by United Way of Pennsylvania found that 82 percent experienced increased demand for service, 64 percent had layoffs and about one-third turned away people needing services.

About 70 percent were negatively impacted by budget cuts over the past two years, according to the survey released Thursday. Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget reminded United Way of Pennsylvania President Tony Ross of the movie title "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," he said.

"We were pleasantly surprised," said Leslie Osche, executive director of the United Way of Butler County. "We expected worse."

Corbett would provide continued support for early childhood programs. Funding would continue at 2010-11 levels for substance abuse programs. Domestic violence and homeless assistance would retain most funding.

The ARC of Pennsylvania, which represents people with intellectual disabilities, noted the plan keeps intact the community service system, maintains money for special education, and provides a modest increase for early intervention programs for kids with developmental delays.

But local service providers worry about $47 million in cuts to county child welfare services and the elimination of the Human Services Development Fund, which provided $23 million this year to aid low-income and disabled individuals whose needs fall outside of other aid categories.

Up to 5,400 low-income people in Allegheny County would be affected, said John Litz, the county's administrator for the fund.

The county Department of Human Services distributed about $2.4 million to 19 agencies that provide assistance, including home services for the disabled, counseling, transition programs for those released from jail and after-school programs for children living in homeless shelters.

"This is dismaying and outrageous as a citizen and taxpayer and social service person," Litz said. "A lot of people are going to have nowhere to turn."

Christopher Smith, executive director of Child Watch of Pittsburgh, an advocacy agency, said if cuts to child welfare services happen, it could mean higher costs down the road.

"We have had children removed (from unfit homes) because of strong services," he said. "A decrease in funding might reverse that trend. That's going to cause a serious impact to kids and families."

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