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Berks commissioners approve $15 million human services budget

Reading Eagle - 6/13/2024

A spending plan that steers state funds to several human services programs was approved Thursday by the Berks County commissioners.

The board was presented with the preliminary budget for the Berks County Human Services Block Grant — a program that allows local officials to decide how to spend money on programs for the homeless, those battling addiction, those who are intellectually disabled or otherwise vulnerable residents.

Berks has been participating in the block grant program since 2012. It was designed to give counties more flexibility to spread out its state aid to the local agencies with the most need.

Pamela Seaman, administrator of mental health and developmental disabilities programs for the county, told the commissioners that the nearly $15 million plan is expected to cover the cost of services for about 15,000 people.

Seaman outlined the proposed block grant budget to commissioners:

The Mental Health Fund: $9,594,551; people served in 2022-23: 8,068.

The Developmental Disabilities Fund: $2,946,672; people served in 2022-23: 1,667.

Human Services Development Fund: $322,352; people served in 2022-23: 769.

Homeless Assistance Program: $455,873; people served in 2022-23: 1,103.

• Behavioral Health Services Initiative & Drug and Alcohol: $1,489,071; people served in 2022-23: 3,080.

Seaman highlighted a few strengths from the previous year.

She noted the county is fortunate to have a robust network of service providers and a strong relationship with local hospitals to divert patients from seeking treatment in emergency rooms.

But, she said, there is room for improvement.

Seaman said the county needs to focus on bolstering its workforce development to fill positions, advocating for better wages for those who work with individuals who have intellectual developmental disabilities and increasing capacity at community programs held during the day for those who may be looking for activities.

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