Pa. budget cuts affecting those with special needs

I have a friend named Mark Bross. Even though I have a hectic schedule and can only meet with him every few weeks, I always make it a point to be there punctually. Then, every

I have a friend named Mark Bross. Even though I have a hectic schedule and can only meet with him every few weeks, I always make it a point to be there punctually. Then, every time I walk through the door of his Presidential City apartment, he greets me with a huge smile, a warm handshake, and usually something to the tune of, “It’s so good to see you! You’re so dependable!”

Mark not only depends on me, but also on the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania that created the Compeer program we are both involved in. The Association matches clients with volunteers like myself who spend an afternoon or two together each month for a minimum of a year. Behind this is the idea to help alleviate the stigmatism of those with mental health issues, as well as to provide trustworthy friends for those going through the rehabilitation process.

But now Mark and thousands of others can no longer depend on state funding for their programs because of a recent initiative that will cut budget allocations for mental health by $103 million. These cuts include a 90 percent reduction in the Human Services Development Fund (HSDF), the state agency responsible for funding county-based social services for children, elderly, the disabled and the mentally ill, as well as multiple other mental health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.

These budget cuts have already taken a large toll. An HSDF program based in Lycoming County served 883 people during 2002-2003, and if the budget cut remains in effect into 2004, the county will only be able to assist 30.

Indiana County has also seen its HSDF funding drastically reduced. Twenty-two have already lost their jobs, affecting 500 clients. Projected numbers could reach upwards of 10,000 within the next year.

The funding to these invaluable programs needs to be restored in order to prevent lay-offs, program closures and, more importantly, refusal of assistance to those in need.

Currently, Pennsylvania has been granted $897 million in fiscal relief funds from the federal government, and at least a small portion needs to help fill the gaping holes in the human services budget.

The allotment would not only benefit those in need, but would also strengthen Pennsylvania’s economy by offering employment in human services across the state, spurring economic expansion.

These programs also alleviate stress from other strained systems including our prisons, hospitals, nursing homes and schools. Children whose parents are battling mental health issues, untreated substance abuse problems or unassisted disabilities live in an unstable environment and are disadvantaged throughout their school career.

These services offer indispensable aid and offer support and guidance for friends and family as their loved one travels the road to recovery.

There are more than 120 organizations that support the Human Services Coalition Statement that aims to restore state funding, and for them, their road will lead to the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol Nov. 19 for a “Restore the Cuts” rally. Hopefully the patience and determination of all those involved will be rewarded.

As for Mark, he doesn’t mind waiting if he knows you’re dependable. About a month ago I was supposed to pick him up for a banquet at 11 a.m. and he was ready by 6 a.m.

Now Mark is waiting for good news, and for his sake, I hope it comes soon.

Brandon Lausch can be reached at

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