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Wolf launches case for combining four health and human services agencies

The governor's budget address set for next Tuesday in Harrisburg

As Gov. Tom Wolf prepares for his third budget address next week, a more streamlined state government is taking shape.

One big piece was announced today.

The Wolf administration formally announced plans to create a Department of Health and Human Services in its 2017-18 budget by combining the Departments of Aging, Drug and Alcohol Programs, Health and Human Services.

The agencies have a combined budget of more than $12.2 billion, with the bulk of it going to Medicaid and welfare programs operated by the Department of Human Services.

The administration said a combined agency stands to eliminate duplicative processes and boost state service levels. For example, at least 21 separate services across the departments provide care for seniors and individuals with physical disabilities.

In addition, the governor said in a news release, many health care providers and nonprofits have to meet licensing requirements from multiple agencies, often for the same services at the same facilities. By folding licensing into a single agency, the process should be better coordinated, as well as more transparent and consistent.

It is unclear how much money the move will save the state or how many jobs will be lost, but a media conference call is slated for 1 p.m. with Secretary of Policy and Planning Sarah Galbally.

The governor said in a news release that no programs will be cut as a result of this consolidation.

“This new department will streamline government and allow the commonwealth to deliver more effective services to seniors, individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities, and those suffering from a substance use disorder as well as promote the health and well-being of all Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said.

Wolf has made a series of changes in recent weeks to help control state spending. The commonwealth is facing a projected $600 million shortfall in the current year and a potential $2 billion deficit by the fiscal year starting in July.

The administration has announced plans to consolidate information technology and human resources functions and cut back on office leases by state agencies. 

Pennsylvania also is closing a state prison in the Pittsburgh area, eliminating thousands of unfilled state jobs and cutting back on Wall Street investment managers.

Wolf has said he doesn’t intend to propose broad-based tax increases this year. The budget address is next Tuesday. 

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