Gaping holes soon could appear in the safety net designed to assist the most vulnerable residents of Lycoming and Clinton counties.
Cuts to human services programs are forcing the Lycoming-Clinton Joinder, the organization that oversees mental health and intellectual disabilities services to residents in those counties, to search for ways to bridge the deficiency.
Of particular concern are cuts to mental health services, Deborah Duffy, mental health-intellectual disabilities administrator, said Monday during a Joinder Board executive committee meeting.
"It's troubling because (the cuts) are a full 10 percent, which amounts to $425,000," Duffy said.
According to Duffy, in-house cost cutting measures and cost shifting have enabled the agency to cover about 78 percent of the cuts. How to make up the remaining 22 percent - or about $100,000 - is a question that has yet to be answered.
"It's been quite challenging to find areas to cut without impacting staff and service providers," Duffy said.
The issue is severe enough that the committee, which Monday adopted Early Intervention and Intellectual Disabilities budgets, were not provided with a mental health budget to consider.
Duffy said she hoped that budget will be presented at the board's October meeting.
Early Intervention, which provides services to children with developmental delays from birth to age 3, received a $1.1 million allocation, which is about $75,000 less than last year's allocation, Duffy said.
The budget itself reflects a 30-percent shortfall because enrollment in the program is up, she said. However, Duffy said she is less concerned about funding for that program because it is an entitlement program that the state is obligated to fund. The shortfall likely will be bridged during the year through several rounds of rebudgeting.
The $2.8 million Intellectual Disabilities budget saw a decrease of about 10 percent, Duffy said.
While there are concerns about funding for that program, the mental health side of the Joinder's programming is the most worrisome, Duffy said.
Duffy said service providers may need to find ways to reduce costs.
There is a misconception that people who need mental health care are getting free money and are on par with people who are abusing the Public Welfare system, she said.
"There are people with severe and persistent mental illness, emotional or social disorders," Duffy said. "None of the dollars go to give people money. They pay for services to our most vulnerable citizens and they won't go away. This is a service that actually goes to assist people in living productive lives and keep the community safe."
It is unlikely that reducing funding for mental health will result in a saving for the state because people with untreated mental health issues often end up in jail or a hospital, Duffy said.
Duffy said she hopes the agency weathers the financial storm this year.
"If we get this kind of cut next year, it will be catastrophic," she said.