Bucks Human Services asks for public input on grant distribution

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Matt Schickling / Wire photo

Bucks County officials are seeking public input for how to distribute funds from the Human Services Block Grant.

On the first of three public hearings on the topic held last week at the Bensalem Library, officials from Bucks County Human Services laid out how the funds were used in previous years and put forth priorities for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

Of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, about half are block grant counties. This means that the state provides funds for human services, and the county is able to choose how to distribute them across mental health services, intellectual disability services, homelessness assistance, housing assistance, children and youth services, drugs and alcohol services and the human services development fund.

“It allows us to be flexible during the year to shift funding from one program to another,” John Rubin, director of Bucks Human Services, said.

In the last two years, for example, funds were shifted toward drug and alcohol services and treatment. That was seen as a priority in Bucks communities, and officials were able to unleash the funds to help.

The funding for Bucks Human Services is expected to stay the same for 2016-2017, Rubin said, but the numbers have not yet been finalized. The department has already started planning for no increase or decrease in the block grant, which is expected to be roughly $27 million.

Rubin estimated the breakdown to be about $24 million for mental health and developmental programs; $1 million for the drug and alcohol commission; $850,000 for children and youth; and $400,000 for homelessness assistance programs.

The block grant is not the only funding the Bucks Human Services Department receives, however, and other funds supplement these, whether from the county budget or other programs.

Representatives from various departments laid out priorities for the upcoming year.

Diane Rosati, executive director for the county’s Drug and Alcohol Commission, said focus will be on the opioid and overdose epidemic in the county, extending lengths of stay in treatment, continuing outreach to local hospitals, police departments, school districts regarding naloxone, an opiate antidote, education and other issues.

“We realize that a lot of people just don’t know where to start,” Rosati said.

Donna Duffy Bell, an administrator with the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Programs, spoke about areas of focus in these departments.

They were: Strengthening commitment and collaboration with the criminal justice system to divert from incarceration; strengthening support of community-based housing for those with mental illnesses; focusing on prevention and early intervention; looking at integrated planning, especially in behavioral and physical health care; infusing peer support into services; and collaborating with other county entities to improve overall services.

Marjorie McKeone laid out the goals of the Children and Youth department, which primarily focuses on assisting and strengthening families, protecting children from child abuse and neglect and to ensure child safety.

Rubin spoke on behalf of Erin Lukoss of the Bucks Opportunity Council, who did not attend the hearing. His focus was on integrating housing assistance programs so that different programs and groups could work together to get more done.

Those who could not attend the meetings and wish to give input can contact John Rubin at 215.348.6203 or 215.358.6201 or email jerubin@buckscounty.org.

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