‘We can do better’ Wolf’s Council on Reform finds

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a Capitol press conference on Monday, 12/16/19 (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller)

Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday provided the first progress report on the administration’s ongoing efforts to protect Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents.

The council found that the Commonwealth could improve in two key areas: empowering the workforce and creating access to those who need services.

“The goal is to ensure that every human being is treated just like that – a human being,” Wolf said.

The administration’s Council on Reform, and its Office of Advocacy, created by executive order in July, were tasked with reviewing state agencies and providers’ work on serving the needs of such populations as the elderly and the homeless. 

In November, the 25-member council delivered “an extensive set of recommendations” to Wolf after speaking with stakeholders, legislators, the public and state agencies.

The list of recommendations had two overarching goals.

The first was to empower and strengthen the workforce serving vulnerable populations through training, support, benefits and “livable” salaries.

The second goal was to empower communities and vulnerable populations by ensuring access to services by “conducting culturally appropriate and diverse outreach efforts.”

Advocacy Office Executive Director Dan Jurman said he’d seen, “all too often what happens to vulnerable people when our systems, programs and interventions fail them.”

Working alongside the council, Wolf said state agencies are taking steps to improve the way they serve and protect vulnerable populations.

The Department of Health will begin waiving the $20 fee for birth certificate for homeless Pennsylvanians, which has long been a barrier to entry for individuals looking to receive state services, but who couldn’t get an ID because of the cost to obtain a birth certificate, which is needed to get an ID in Pennsylvania.

The Department of Aging will host trainings on older adult protective services mandatory reporting and a multitude of other agencies are working on procuring software that allows state agencies to share data and better manage an individual’s services.

Children’s services were not reviewed by the council, but Wolf said those programs are also in need of intervention, as well. 

“We need to make some real changes,” Wolf said. “One of the things the council has been talking about together is some sort of an intervention support system that the state can use to help children’s services at the county-level to make sure we’re all doing the best we can for our children.” 

Now that the public comment period has closed, the council’s next steps are to review the public comments to ensure the recommendations are not missing any key concerns before asking Wolf to direct state agencies to make any recommended changes.

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.