Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

State: Merger Would Save Money Wolf Administration Plans to Consolidate Health, Human Services Agencies

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

State: Merger Would Save Money Wolf Administration Plans to Consolidate Health, Human Services Agencies

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG - Wolf administration officials said Monday that their plan to consolidate four state agencies into a single department overseeing health and human services programs will likely lead to only "minimal" layoffs and won't result in program cuts.

In their first public statements on the plan, officials said the proposed merger of the Departments of Aging, Health, Drug and Alcohol Programs, and Human Services would save the state money and result in more efficient delivery of services. But they declined to estimate the size of the savings or the number of jobs that might be lost.

Administration officials promised more details next week, when Mr. Wolf delivers his state budget proposal, in which he will have to address a shortfall projected to reach nearly $3 billion over this year and next.

News of the department merger leaked out late Friday, in an email the administration sent to potentially affected state workers. Together, the four departments have more than 18,000 employees, although the vast majority work in Human Services.

"Over the past several months," Mr. Wolf said in a statement Monday, "I have worked closely with these four departments to break down silos and reimagine how we deliver critical services that will provide treatment to those suffering from substance use disorder, ensure children are receiving high quality services, and expand community-based opportunities for seniors."

Several social-service advocates said they were generally supportive of the proposal, and believed it could result in more efficient and holistic policies and services.

"In a difficult funding environment, it is far better to try something like this than to cut services," said Sue Walther, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania.

Legislative leaders, whose members would have to approve combining state agencies, also signaled interest in at least considering the plan.

"Working through budget hearings, we expect to hear from the Wolf administration how these departments will provide these valuable services while maintaining the level of assistance for these delicate constituencies," Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said in a statement.

The announcement comes as the administration in recent weeks has announced cost-cutting measures in other areas across state government. But a spokesman for Mr. Wolf said Monday that the primary goal of creating a new Department of Health and Human Services would be to improve services. …

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