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PA House bill halts closure of two state centers for people with disabilities

Harrisburg, PA – After House Republicans opposition to the governor’s call to close Polk State Center and White Haven Center, legislation passed the House to prevent the closure of any state centers until at least five years from the bill’s passage, but not before a sensible plan for closure is created.

The White Haven State Center houses more than 100 people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The Polk State Center, which will also remain open, houses about 200 people with intellectual disabilities in Venango County.

The state centers were set to close because national trends have consistently given people with disabilities the option of home- or community-based programs instead of government-run institutions where they live away from their families. However, many argued that closing Polk and White Haven would only put the current residents at risk of having nowhere else to go.

Without passage of Senate Bill 906, the centers’ residents – many of whom have called the centers home for decades – face eviction against their will.

“My concern about Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandated closure of Polk and White Haven has always been the residents and their welfare. A topic that has such serious, life-changing implications must be thoroughly considered from all angles. The amendment I offered would require proper consideration,” said Rep. Lee James (R-Venango/Butler).

The bill would require a task force to perform a comprehensive evaluation of the state centers and provide recommendations to the Department of Human Services prior to the closure of any state center. A majority of the task force must approve the plan, and five years must pass after the bill is signed into law.

The James amendment eliminates the requirement that every Pennsylvanian who is Medicaid waiver-eligible is moved off the waiting list and into community-based services prior to the closure of any state center.

“Thousands of people shared their opposition to the abrupt closure the governor mandated last August. Because of their support, we are one step closer to protecting these vulnerable members of our community,” James added. “I look forward to the bill’s swift vote in the Senate.”

Because Senate Bill 906 was amended, it must return to the Senate for a concurrence vote before it is presented to the governor for his signature.