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Proposed Department Merger The Subject of Joint Hearings
On March 29, the Senate held the first of a series of public hearings looking into the Wolf Administration’s proposal to consolidate the departments of Human Services, Health, Aging, and Drug and Alcohol Programs. This is a major element of the proposed state budget, and will affect countless agencies and individuals across Pennsylvania.
Four Senate committees participated in the hearing held in Harrisburg, including Health and Human Services, which I chair.
Among those who were asked to provide testimony were Budget Secretary Randy Albright, Policy and Planning Secretary Sarah Galbally, Administration Secretary Sharon Minnich, Department of Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas, Department of Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy, Department of Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne, Drug and Alcohol Programs Acting Secretary Jennifer Smith, and representatives of McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm hired by the Wolf Administration to identify operational efficiencies, cost savings, and revenue enhancements.
An additional video from the second part of the hearing, regarding fiscal, policy, and personnel considerations can be viewed by clicking here.
For months, the reaction to Governor Wolf’s consolidation proposal has been a combination of intrigue at the possibilities of efficiencies and cost savings, and deep concern over the challenges of implementation. There is a recognition of the complexity of this undertaking on a rather tight timeframe.
The administration provided very little new information, but promises a plan is forthcoming. Their PowerPoint presented a vision of a “no wrong door” approach, but getting in the door has never been the problem. It is the obstacles encountered once inside that people find so frustrating. As it appears now, the maze would be getting bigger with fewer folks to help steer constituents through the process. Touted as the cornerstone of this year’s state budget, much of the cost savings seem possible without a merger.
If approved, we would be creating what could possibly be one of the biggest state agencies in the nation, with a budget that surpasses all current state spending. When you combine federal pass-through funding with existing state dollars dedicated to program delivery and personnel costs for the four departments, the budget approaches $40 billion. These are monies that touch a wide variety of vulnerable populations, so there is no room for error. We must ensure “unification” is not simply a means of shrinking funding for already stressed local providers.
Through both Republican and Democrat administrations, running a large department, as Human Services already is, has proved challenging in managing it effectively and providing acceptable accountability. A much larger consolidated agency will presumably increase the level of challenge on both counts. One of the crucial things the Wolf administration must do is develop an appropriate new structure. Whatever that structure looks like, there will be a lot riding on the capabilities of the individual selected to head it.
While awaiting further details, we will continue consulting with other states to learn more about their consolidation experiences. We will also be examining Pennsylvania’s merger of the Department of Commerce and the Department of Community Affairs in the early 90’s to see what comparisons might be made, especially as they relate to personnel. Most important, we will continue seeking feedback from community providers, institutions and advocacy groups to understand how those depending on these services will be impacted.
Additional hearings are being scheduled. Check
www.senatorbaker.com for details.
Dallas District Office Food Drive Collection Location
My Dallas district office is a designated drop off location for the Back Mountain Chamber of Commerce’s Spring Food Drive. Please drop off any non-perishable food items during normal business hours through Friday, April 7. The food will go to the Back Mountain Food Pantry.
Sen. Baker along with
one of the boxes of food collected in the Dallas district office
during the Spring Food Drive.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation Week Resolution
The Senate unanimously designated the week of March 12 through 18 as "Pulmonary Rehabilitation Week" in Pennsylvania.
Pulmonary disease is the third leading cause of death in our nation and commonwealth. This week seeks to bring attention to the disease and the dedicated professionals who help in its prevention and rehabilitation. The dedicated pulmonary specialists of Pennsylvania and the strides made to conquer lung disease are deserving of great recognition, so I am pleased to publically thank and commend the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation for its work on this important public health issue.
Sen. Baker along with Harrisburg office staff member Maggie Gianelli, Wayne
Memorial Hospital’s Nadine Greco, and Denise Sheffield, the president of the
Tri-State Society for Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation.
ARC of Luzerne County Honor
I was humbled to be among those recognized at the ARC of Luzerne County Awards Dinner. In life, we all must contend with physical, intellectual, and emotional limitations. But there are many for whom the limitations are more severe and the barriers more daunting. They, their families, and their caregivers, should not have to contend with unnecessary barriers in law, in regulations, or in biased attitudes.
At the ARC’s annual awards dinner at The Woodlands on March