What’s Wrong With County Block Grants If They’re Level-Funded?

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I don’t like the Republicans human services program *budget cuts* at all, but is there any reason to oppose the block grants to counties? I personally like that idea a lot. Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties probably have somewhat different needs than Tioga or York. If different Counties think they can help more people by increasing funding for some programs and decreasing it for others, or creating new County programs depending on the local situation, what’s wrong with that?

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6 Responses to What’s Wrong With County Block Grants If They’re Level-Funded?

  1. phillydem says:

    I agree that it’s better to allow grantees the flexibility to spend grant money. As you say, Jon, different places have different needs or better ideas or the same programs may work better in one place than another. I think the biggest issue with grants for specific purposes is that applicants sometimes must force their written proposal to fit the parameters of existing grants.

  2. RP says:

    The problem is that funding formulas are always deeply flawed in their allocation of resources. If poverty data from the census are used, they are almost always immediately outdated. If community survey data is used, under-counts occur and small counties have wild fluctuations. Lastly, these types of statistics don’t always serve as an accurate proxy for all of the types of state assistance.

    Regardless of which data are used, the outcome is a hodge-podge of state programs that vary at the county level. One argument is that it meets a local need, the other is that citizens end up on waiting lists by an accident of geography due to 67 counties with 67 sets of priorities.

    The other argument is that you end up with extra executive directors and managers that get between the tax dollar and the person — we have tiny counties that really don’t need duplication of expertise.

    • Jon says:

      How are the funding formulas determined now? I think I’d be for a straight population-based funding formula. Or a formula based on a County’s contribution to state GDP.

      • phillydem says:

        I’m not sure straight population-based formula is a good idea. You really can’t punish an area just because it’s lightly populated due to geography or economics or being located in the Allegheny National Forest, etc. It’s the same with GDP contribution. Why should areas like where I live that have lost good-paying jobs through no fault of its own be hurt still more by not qualifying for grants that could help it rebuild?

        • Jon says:

          I hear you, but I just think that when the state is thinking about how to allocate scarce human services dollars, and economic development dollars, it should be sending the money to where most of the population lives, and where the greatest need is. Leaving out population and GDP is unfair to the areas that are the net payers. It’s not like Philly is getting enough funding for human services. My view is that the overall thrust of state spending is already way too pro-rural, and I would like to see transfers from metros to less populous counties greatly reduced.

        • RP says:

          Usually population and selected demographics dictate funding levels –it is notable that each program and state department sends money to the locals using a different model. Moreover, many programs have a “hold harmless” so counties never lose money regardless of population shifts.

          I disagree even on population-based models. State services should be allocated on a first come, first serve basis statewide with consistent eligibility standards. The demand for mental health or substance abuse services cannot be accurately predicted by a population model — there will always be too much in one area vs. another resulting in an inefficiency. So the “winning” county buys new computers (so money doesn’t lapse) and the “losing” county starts a waiting list or gives less units of service. Again, citizens are punished by an accident in geography outside their control.

          As for GDP, that would be a poor predictor too — why would it make sense to give more poverty assistance dollars to the richest counties with less poverty-related need?

          If a county wants to do more unique things, a county can tax and spend as their elected officials and citizens please. State funded programs require equity across the state. Of course, counties don’t like any of this because it results in less local power, even though its the most fair way.