Pennsylvania counties to sue state for federal money

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Pennsylvania's 67 counties are looking to sue the state to force the government to release hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal funding for county-based human services programs.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) is talking with their lawyers on finalizing paperwork and figuring out who will receive the lawsuit, which could be served in the next week or two. CCAP is planning on suing the commonwealth, on behalf of the counties, so the counties can stop paying for human services like Child and Youth Services, mental health programs, and drug and alcohol addiction centers out of the county fund.

"Dire times call for dire actions," says Dauphin County Chief Clerk Chad Saylor.

The state currently owes Dauphin County approximately $27 million, Saylor says. The county is paying to keep those human service programs operational thanks to county property taxes.

"The state requires us to provide (these services)," Saylor says. "But we do so without any state funding which we are owed."

Saylor insists if the county operated under the same logic as the state, these human services would not see any funding.

"If we were to act as irresponsibly as the state, we would just shut these programs down and send employees home, forcing (the state's) hand to fund it," he says. "But that would be irresponsible because we'd be putting people's lives on the line."

Governor Tom Wolf told FOX43 this week the state, under the Pennsylvania constitution, is unable to release federal funds without appropriations from the General Assembly. The only exceptions are when the federal government orders the release of money or if the programs are emergency services or affect the health and welfare of the general population. Saylor claims the only reason why the county's human services are not considered "emergency" is because Dauphin County is keeping it open through their own funds.

"That's a ridiculous position," Saylor says. "You've got people's lives at stake here and you're talking about the letter of the law."

The lawsuit seems likely, regardless if a state budget is passed in the coming weeks. CCAP wants to ensure if a state budget impasse happens again, the individual counties are protected and will continue to receive state and federal funding.