The Youth Services Alliance of Pennsylvania (YSAP) represents Pennsylvania’s children and youth providers who deliver 80% of PA’s services for abused, neglected and delinquent children and youth.
YSAP’s primary purposes:
- Youth Advocacy
- Education and Training
The Youth Services Alliance of Pennsylvania is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization incorporated in 1981. YSAP is committed to a healthy and competitive statewide private provider system that offers cost-effective alternatives to government-run services, allowing counties the flexibility of choosing from a robust continuum of care for vulnerable young people.
1976 — Founding
The Youth Services Alliance of Pennsylvania was founded in 1976 to coincide with Act 148 of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, landmark legislation that created incentives for the development of community-based services for delinquent and dependent youth — in lieu of traditional juvenile justice services that relied on large state-run facilities.
The legislation favored keeping young people in their home communities whenever possible and fostered a competitive and innovative system of private providers offering cost-effective services “including, but not limited to, foster home care, group home care, shelter care, community residential care, youth service bureaus, day treatment centers and service to children in their own home and any other alternative treatment programs approved by the department.”
YSAP provided information, training and education for providers with regard to the opportunities and requirements of Act 148. YSAP also provided a voice for the private sector in the subsequent development of regulatory processes related to the act.
The Department of Public Welfare (DPW) was unaccustomed to private agencies having such a significant role, but Pennsylvania’s counties found that private agencies offered choice, flexibility and economy. Although DPW has maintained some of its own services for delinquent youth, private providers now deliver more than 80 percent of services to vulnerable children and youth across the state.
1981 — Incorporation
In 1981 YSAP was incorporated and gained Internal Revenue Service approval as a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational organization. In the coming years YSAP would prove to be a flexible vehicle that was could be whatever it needed to be — depending on the challenges of the time.
1990s — Challenges
DPW made the first of its many attempts to impose control over the collaboration between counties and private providers. In a letter from the Office of Budget on June 20, 1991, DPW proposed a “master contracting” process through revised 3170 regulations that it claimed would limit state and county costs. DPW disregarded the fact that counties already had the most effective means of controlling costs — the right to purchase, or not purchase, services needed for children and youth and choose from among hundreds of nonprofit and other organizations competing in the marketplace.
DPW justified its grab for power by suggesting that it needed to curb excessive salaries and benefit packages and excess profits — without ever substantiating that claim. Perhaps the most outrageous provision of DPW’s proposed regulations was the demand that private nonprofit charitable agencies use voluntary donations from philanthropic individuals, businesses and foundations to subsidize government purchase of services.
By 1993 the threat of revisions to the 3170 regulations loomed large. YSAP led the successful educational campaign against those revisions, which in 1995 were literally buried in a bucket of dirt with a shovel in a symbolic ceremony in the office of then DPW Secretary Feather Houston. Newly elected Governor Ridge recognized the faulty thinking of state and county government officials who argued that capitalism should not apply to the purchase of services for children and youth.
Since 1995 — An Emerging Crisis
In the years since 1995 there have been repeated attempts attempts to undermine fair contracting practices by creating a regional or statewide consortium of counties to impose rate-setting on individual private providers. Ultimately this approach failed in 2009 when YSAP enlisted the assistance of a prominent attorney to advise counties that the consortium concept was a violation of federal antitrust statutes.
Even without a consortium, however, many counties found that they could intimidate private agencies and refuse rates that would keep pace with rising costs, including cost-of-living pay increases for those agencies’ employees. Unlike most private companies that do business with government, from building contractors to office supply vendors, most private providers of children and youth services have no other customers besides the counties. They were invented to serve children and youth in need. In stark contrast to the pay and benefits of public employees and the rising rates approved by DPW for state-run programs, private providers have suffered miniscule and even zero percent rate increases, year after year.
It is, of course, the responsibility of government to make the hard decisions about where to draw the line on spending. But many in government have advocated an outrageous and short-sighted strategy—to expect private providers to deliver services at rates set “below the cost of care.”
In addition to the “great recession,” another problem emerged in recent years, thanks to DPW’s mismanagement of federal funding. Pennsylvania may have to repay many millions of dollars for its inappropriate use of federal Title IV-E residential program subsidies for treatment and other non-allowable costs. Rather than deal effectively with federal demands for a better accounting system that might produce a negotiated settlement, DPW Deputy Secretary Richard Gold, director of the Office of Children and Youth (OCYF) during the Rendell administration, used the federal IV-E situation as a pretext to impose exactly what the Ridge administration had blocked—a draconian statewide rate-setting system.
OCYF launched its new rate-setting system through a fiscal bulletin issued in 2008, without proper legislative authorization. The rate-setting process was so inept that it totally disrupted the normal contracting process between counties and private providers that usually is completed in July. In January 2010, for example, two-thirds of private providers were still waiting for OCYF “allowable rates” to be established, while their contracts with counties hung in limbo. Most private providers continued providing services to children and youth, but many were not paid and had to borrow money to stay afloat. Some went out of business.
YSAP collaborated with six Pennsylvania agencies who, on behalf of all private providers in the Commonwealth, filed a Motion on July 16, 2009, seeking to invalidate the OCYF administrative bulletin (there were actually several bulletins issued) and the rate-setting procedures they imposed.
A year later, on July 23, 2010, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled against the Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF) of the Department of Public Welfare and struck down the fiscal procedures that it had imposed by bulletin a year earlier. A three-judge panel unanimously decided in favor of the private providers. Senior Judge Friedburg wrote: “…we hold that the Bulletins are, in fact, unpromulgated regulations and, thus, Providers have a clear right to the relief requested. Accordingly, we grant Providers’ Motion.”
Ultimately the private providers prevailed. On April 24, 2013, the Supreme Court upheld the Commonwealth Court decision. See YSAP webpage: “PA Supreme Court decision terminates illegal state fiscal process.”
DPW’s efforts, however, took other forms. During the tumult of the budget bill process in the autumn of 2009, DPW hastily proposed HB 1351 with the same sort of unacceptable revisions to the 3170 regulations that had been defeated in the 1990’s. YSAP led the battle against HB1351, rallying private providers, contacting legislators and orchestrating a letter-writing campaign. YSAP persuaded legislators that such dramatic changes to the regulations should only be carried out through thoughtful hearings, not in haste. HB 1351 failed.
The fundamental problem facing children and youth agency budgets is a natural consequence of the growing societal need for services and the limitations of state and federal funding. Feeling pressured by demands to curtail costs in the face of limited revenues, public servants have inappropriately seized upon desperate and arbitrary measures.
County and state government officials do not seem to understand that they can only squeeze so hard. Many are making decisions based on unrealistic assumptions—that if one private provider goes out of business there will always be another to take its place. Or that the government should not have to pay the full price for services it requires—that private providers should meet shortfalls through philanthropy. Such foolhardy thinking has resulted in a tragic deterioration in what used to be a positive collaboration between government and the private sector. Instead, there is now an atmosphere of fear and hostility characterized by accusations, threats and lawsuits.
The heavy-handed imposition of central planning and external control of private enterprise by governments are destroying the healthy system that once benefited Pennsylvania’s young people. A free market approach with a fee structure that actually covers the true cost of service is critical.
Although the courts have terminated the illegal rate-setting apparatus established by OCYF, there is much to be done.
YSAP is attempting to create a new atmosphere in Harrisburg of reflection and change. We want to recapture the collaborative spirit that prevailed when Act 148 sought to encourage innovative community-based services.
YSAP is working with members of the legislature to strengthen Act 30 and ensure that vulnerable children and youth receive quality services based on reasonable rates that meet the actual cost of care.
YSAP is striving to educate the public, legislators and government officials about the remarkable work that private agencies and their dedicated staff are doing every day with children, youth and their families across Pennsylvania.