Growing up through the cracks: Bid to shift state funding threatens Allegheny County family support centers

By Kate Giammarise

A potential shift in state funding could impact — or potentially close — up to eight local family support centers, which serve families with young children in some of Allegheny County's most impoverished communities.

The 28 centers in Allegheny County offer parenting classes and support, promote healthy child development and help detect developmental delays early, and aid families with other services, such as making sure they have health insurance, up-to-date immunizations, and even things like food and clothing.

Ten of the centers — in Clairton, Duquesne, Homestead, McKeesport, McKees Rocks, Penn Hills, Tarentum, Wilkinsburg and Wilmerding, and in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Hazelwood — are operated by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

A solicitation put out earlier this month by state officials limits this funding stream to only two applicants per county and not more than $280,600 per applicant, per county — which would represent a cut of at least $1.3 million to these 10 centers, and mean the state would only fund two of them.

If the state moves forward, “the AIU will be forced to close multiple family centers while slashing staff and services supporting families at the remaining sites — all within the next two months,” AIU officials said in a letter sent to legislators.

AIU officials declined to comment to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Limiting this funding to two centers per county “will almost ensure the program will not reach the highest risk families,” Marc Cherna, Allegheny County human services director, wrote in a letter earlier this month to state officials, a copy of which was obtained by the Post-Gazette. Mr. Cherna also touted the centers’ work in reducing child abuse and neglect.

“Each of the [Family Support Centers] is intentionally located in high-poverty, distressed towns and communities and have become hubs for crucial family services,” Mr. Cherna wrote.

Several centers, such as those in Wilmerding, Clairton, McKeesport and Duquesne, are in communities where roughly half of all children live in poverty. These communities are the focus of the Post-Gazette’s Growing Up Through the Cracks, a series that examines the harmful impacts of concentrated poverty on children and communities.  

State human services officials declined to comment “due to legal restrictions of the procurement code.” The request for applications was posted May 2, and applications are due June 6.

“We cannot comment until selections are made,” said Erin James, a spokeswoman for the department.

State Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, the chamber’s minority leader, said he and other legislators have reached out to the governor to get the state to rescind its solicitation, or at least slow down any abrupt change in how funding is allocated.

“They’re trying to shift money to other parts of the state. We’ve got a strong family support network that we’ve developed over the years ... and that’s going all be pulled out from under us,” Mr. Costa said.

“These centers are very valuable to the people they serve,” said Rep. Austin Davis, D-McKeesport, whose district is home to several of the centers. 

Mr. Davis said he has been in contact with Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.

“They are working, I think, to find a positive solution,” he said.

Kate Giammarise: or 412-263-3909.

[This article was originally published by the Post-Gazette.]