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Gov. Tom Wolf to propose folding 4 Pa. agencies into 1

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Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf

Facing a severe budget squeeze, Gov. Tom Wolf is pushing to consolidate four state agencies into a new Department of Health and Human Services, a move intended to eliminate duplication and red tape, while streamlining delivery of services to seniors, people with intellectual and physical disabilities and those battling addiction.

The Wolf administration said the four agencies — the departments of Aging, Drug and Alcohol Programs, Health, and Human Services — sometimes provide overlapping services to the same groups.

The sweeping change is aimed at “providing better services while cutting unnecessary bureaucracy,” Sarah Galbally, Wolf’s top policy aide, said Monday in a call with reporters. Employees of the four agencies were notified about the proposal Friday evening. However, a reduction in staffing will be minimal, if any, she said.

Further details of any savings will be revealed Tuesday when Wolf delivers his budget proposal.

Monday’s announcement came amid calls from legislative Republicans to trim the size of state government as lawmakers face steep budget challenges.

The proposal is a shift for the Democrat governor, who has proposed increasing broad-based taxes to generate revenues to balance the state budget. His prior proposals have been met with swift resistance from Republicans who control the Legislature.

In a statement, Wolf said he worked with the four department heads for months to figure how to integrate the programs to better deliver services while eliminating duplication.

“The creation of a new, unified Department of Health and Human Services will not result in any program cuts for Pennsylvanians but will dramatically improve our ability to deliver services that will improve lives,” he said.

All four agencies have a role in addressing the ongoing opioid and heroin epidemic. Under the proposal, the new Department of Health and Human Services will be the single state authority for federal Medicaid, substance abuse and mental health programs. The administration said this will allow the state to maximize available federal funds while offsetting costs for staff and services. The new department will be led by one secretary as well as a Cabinet-level adviser focused on opioid and heroin issues.

The administration believes the consolidation will make it easier for seniors applying for prescription drug assistance and seeking home- and community-based services and will cut red tape for nonprofits and other providers that work with state government to provide services.

The administration said a range of providers, from hospitals to child-care centers to substance-abuse treatment facilities and nursing homes, are licensed through multiple agencies to provide the same services.

Consolidating audits and inspections would be less costly for providers and could bring uniformity to the health and human services providers.

The Wolf administration is expecting similar results to when the Children’s Health Insurance Program was moved from the Department of Insurance to DHS, which increased CHIP coverage and shortened the processing time for applications while saving taxpayer resources.

Individuals will benefit from the “one-stop shop” for services, while a single agency can streamline services with an “integrated data and delivery system,” Galbally said.

The Wolf administration needs legislative approval to consolidate the agencies. Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said he expects the administration to answer numerous questions about the proposal during upcoming budget hearings.

Galbally said 15 states have a combined health and human services department.

Kevin Zwick is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2856 or [email protected].

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