(The Center Square) – The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services needs $941 million extra in its budget this year to service the state’s aging population.
For some lawmakers, however, the “overspend” represents years of mismanagement under Gov. Tom Wolf that’s led to a 40% increase in the DHS’s budget since he took office in 2015.
“The bottom line is, this department cannot continue doing this,” said House Appropriations Committee Majority Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York. “The taxpayers are not an open wallet that can continue to fund these kind of increases.”
DHS Secretary Teresa Miller defended the request as the result of chronic underfunding, a shrinking working population and the pandemic.
“If we are going to tackle this issue, we have to be honest about what’s happening,” she said. “DHS has been historically underfunded for many, many years.”
Miller said the number of residents aged 65 to 74 will rise 33% through 2025. That increase climbs 40% for residents 75-84-years-old, while the share of those 85 and older will increase 9.5%.
“We are an entitlement agency,” she said. “Which means if people are eligible for our services, we must provide them, … and the number of people eligible for these services continues to grow.”
Republicans scoffed at the explanation and said the only way to grow the state’s working population is to cut regulations, keep taxes low and create more jobs – something Wolf’s proposal to raise personal income taxes 46% on the top third of earners won’t do.
“We never talk about that,” Saylor said. “We always talk about everything else but that.”
Saylor blamed mismanagement for the spending increases and said even if the Legislature raised taxes per the governor’s proposal, DHS would burn through the $3 billion in extra revenue “in less than two years.”
“I get anonymous texts from your employees talking about waste and mismanagement,” he said. “Something has to change or either the taxpayers here are going to do what people in New York, New Jersey and California are doing. They are leaving.”
Minority Chairman Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, said Republicans’ accounting gimmicks and last-minute illogical $300 million cuts to the DHS budget have put the department in a difficult situation.
“If you want to demagogue this department … we should also recognize the fiscal realities that we’ve created for them,” he said.
Besides, he said, the majority party rarely, if ever, suggests where to cut the money from.
“We have to talk about what the cost drivers really are, and that’s difficult right?” Bradford said. “In a $47 billion budget, it’s grandma and grandpa, it’s those with intellectual disabilities. They are the ones with the highest costs year over year, and yet they are the ones we have the highest obligation to provide services for.”