The Five R’s: What Pennsylvania needs in a state budget

wolfforpa.com/pass-the-budgetToday is the deadline for Pennsylvania to sign a state budget for next year. Every budget is an expression of priorities, and Gov. Wolf was elected last November because a majority of Pennsylvanians believed then-Gov. Corbett had the wrong ones. For four years he marched our state in the wrong direction.

Since taking office, Governor Wolf has made clear to the state legislature what their new priorities should be and has drafted a budget that would support those priorities:

And what makes those four R’s possible? Another R: Revenue. In order to achieve these tax cuts for lower- and middle-income families and increased investments in our children we need to raise the amount of money the state collects. Raising taxes on a natural gas industry that is reaping profits from Marcellus Shale drilling helps get us to that goal.

And the majority of Pennsylvanians are still with him. They share these priorities.

But the Republican-controlled House and Senate have delivered a budget bill, HB 1192, that offers Pennsylvania nothing. It does not even go part-way towards funding the kinds of services and tax cuts that would clearly serve this state’s citizens.

So now we are at an impasse. Wolf will not sign the GOP’s misguided budget nor will he cower in their attempts to blame the impasse on him.

The effects of not having a budget and funding guidelines will vary based on the agency. Vital social services such as WIC programs, medical assistance, unemployment compensation will continue because state employees will continue to work even if they’re not getting paid.

But if a deal can’t be reached soon, the outlook could turn grim by August for counties and nonprofit that provide social services. Due to five years of flat state funding for human services, agencies that provide “foster care, residential services for children, drug and alcohol counseling, and in-home care for people with disabilities” are operating without a cushion.

A frozen budget because the Republican leadership of the legislature want to stand off against the governor is shameful. Our legislators should be scrambling to improve the lives of PA citizens, not taking them hostage to score political points or to privatize liquor.

Human services funding needs critical increases, which is why we have joined dozens of our fellow members of the Better Choices Coalition in a letter to our state legislators urging them to pass a responsible budget.

What You Can Do

orange arrowTake a look at the letter below and then take action. Call your legislator. Tell them that you share Gov. Wolf’s budget priorities and that it’s time for a Pennsylvania budget that addresses the needs of Pennsylvanians.

BETTER CHOICES FOR PENNSYLVANIA COALITION SIGN ON LETTER TO LEGISLATORS & GOVERNOR

Pennsylvania needs a new direction. For far too long, our commonwealth has been relying on tax cuts as its cure for all ills. It has not worked. While the wealthiest Pennsylvanians are prospering, too many in the state are struggling to make ends meet.

Chronic underfunding of human services programs combined with funding cuts enacted in recent years have left working families, people with disabilities, senior citizens, children, and the agencies that provide assistance to these populations struggling to do more with less. We need a responsible budget that restores funding to these vital programs and increases investment in the services that help our most vulnerable citizens to live, learn, work, and thrive in Pennsylvania.

In order to accomplish this vision, we need to raise revenue in a way that makes our tax system fairer for vulnerable communities and middle-income families. Earlier this year our coalition suggested multiple ways of raising revenue fairly [see attachment], including a recommendation for property tax relief. We are pleased that there is bipartisan interest in addressing the challenges that property taxes pose for some homeowners in particular communities, but we encourage legislators and the Governor to support reforms targeted to low-income homeowners and renters, prioritizing relief to communities where property taxes are particularly high. Additionally we oppose any property tax relief proposals that would remove the sales tax exemption on food, as this would create profound hardship for the lowest income Pennsylvanians and increase demand for food assistance.

We, the undersigned organizations of the Better Choices for Pennsylvania coalition, call on Governor Wolf and the General Assembly to work together to enact a 2015-16 budget that uses new revenue to increase funding for vital services that provide critical assistance to Pennsylvanians facing significant challenges. Some of our top priorities are noted below.

Food Security

  • An appropriation of $21 million for the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP), which has been an essential tool for Pennsylvania’s food banks and food pantries in the effort to help our most vulnerable citizens supplement their meager food budget. The FY 2014-15 budget provided $17.438 million for SFPP, essentially flat-funding the program for yet another year. To keep pace with increases in food prices, the program would need $25.7 million to break even. An appropriation of $21 million represents the mid-point between the current funding and what would be required to make up for the loss of spending power due to food cost inflation since fiscal year 2006-2007.
  • $3 million in funding for the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS), another important state program that helps both farmers and those in need by identifying surplus farm products and distributing them to fight hunger. PASS has received no dedicated funding in recent years.

Working Families

  • An appropriation of $500,000 to $1 million for the Family Savings Account Program, a Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) program that helps Pennsylvania families become financially stable.
  • A $2 – $5 million allocation for the Pennsylvania Community Development, a DCED program that supports job creation, job growth, and economic development.
  • Increase the Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit program by $18 million to allow nonprofit organizations to partner with private businesses to provide more food, job training, education, crime prevention, and housing and community development.

People with Disabilities and Their Families

  • An increase of least $18.9 million to offer waiver services for an additional 1,000 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and $372,000 to offer waivers to 50 adults with autism. This would still be a decrease compared to the level of people taken off the waiting list from last year, and we need to see more funding put towards ending the waiting list for intellectual and developmental disability services.
  • A $5 million increase in state funds that would leverage an additional $18 million in federal funds, intended to draw down the full available federal match for the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and decrease poverty and unemployment for Pennsylvanians with disabilities.
  • An increase of $4.8 million to begin restoring funding to Community Base funds that were severely cut in 2012-2013.
  • $952,000 in increased funds to transition 50 individuals currently residing in state intellectual disabilities centers to the community.
  • An increase of $500,000 for the Office of Developmental Programs to increase job opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
  • $3.55 million in the General Government Operations line item to fund Adult Protective Services.
  • An increase of $13.76 million to serve an additional 1,140 people in the Independence, OBRA, and Commcare waivers.
  • $2.36 million in additional funds to serve 324 more people in Attendant Care.
  • An increase for the Centers for Independent Living (CILs) from $1.91 million to $2.32 million.
  • An increase of $15 million for Keystone Communities with assurance that some of the increase will support Accessible Housing home modifications and the rehabilitation or construction of affordable, accessible homes.

Mental Health

  • An increase of $55 million for mental health services, raising overall funding to $787 million.

Domestic Violence & Rape

  • A $1.5 million increase to $16.8 million for services for victims of domestic violence, including emergency shelter for victims fleeing their abuser, counseling to help heal the emotional wounds of abuse, and civil legal representation for victims as they navigate the court system.
  • A nearly $900,000 increase to $9.6 million for rape crisis services.

Housing

  • An increase of $20 million for the Homeless Assistance Program to prevent and address homelessness, and to prevent the larger costs to the commonwealth associated with homelessness.
  • An increase of $1 million for the Human Services Development Fund to allow counties to provide more supportive services to homeless residents.
  • The establishment of a future statewide revenue source for the state Housing Trust Fund, PHARE, with no impact on the 2015-16 budget. Adopt language now to direct a portion of future growth in revenue from the Realty Transfer Tax to PHARE.

Drug and Alcohol

  • An appropriation of $20 million in emergency funding for the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs for the treatment of those who have experienced overdose from opioids.

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