PA disabilities agency facing funding shortfall

Some 1,200 Pennsylvanians with disabilities may have to be put on a waiting list every month instead of getting help immediately to hold down a job and live independently. That’s because the state no longer has enough funds to cover all those who are eligible, officials and advocates say.

The gap now facing the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation is tied to reliance on a pool of federal aid left over from other states that in years past helped maintain service levels, but now is drying up. The resulting shortfall has received little public attention, but among advocates for those with disabilities, it has sparked concern ever since the agency posted a May 4 notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

The state is seeking comments on the matter through 5 p.m. June 4, 2019, that can be emailed or mailed to the agency’s Harrisburg headquarters. Hearings have been held at OVR district offices statewide.

More than 50,000 Pennsylvanians receive an array of OVR help, from physical therapy and wheelchairs to job training and placement advice, delivered both individually and through a network of approved vendors.

The federal government contributes up to 80 percent of OVR’s budget, with the balance — approximately $49 million — provided by the state. The squeeze now facing OVR is due in large part to an expected decline in federal money referred to as “reallocation funds,” said Mr. Suroviec, who was state OVR executive director from 2011 to 2014. These funds, through the U.S. Department of Education, typically were unused by other state OVRs and enabled Pennsylvania for years to augment its available funding, he said.