Monday, October 5, 2009

Needed: A Sense of Urgency on the Budget

(This post originally appeared on the Public School Notebook blog on October 5, 2009 http://www.thenotebook.org/)

This blog post begins with a mea culpa: Friday at mid-day I posted a note on Facebook saying the House had just voted for a revenue plan that nullified the handshake budget agreement announced two weeks ago.

In actuality, it took the House another ten hours to vote for the plan. Almost five of those hours were filled with passionate speeches from House Democrats for the benefit of folks back home: about the harm a tax would inflict on the arts, culture and local fire companies, about the importance of taxing smokeless tobacco and paying to clean up the environment once corporations drill for natural gas. Republicans chimed in with well-worn arguments about the need to reduce government spending.

The truth is, the handshake agreement was off before the House even began debating an alternate tax plan. While speeches on the House floor may reassure voters, and while the House plan is much better than the one embodied by the handshake agreement (click here for analysis from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center http://www.pennbpc.org/house-approves-sustainable-revenue-plan-sends-senate ), Friday’s vote further delays passage of a budget that’s already more than three months overdue.

This is terrible news for children and families who depend on state-supported services including education, child care, behavioral health, mental health/mental retardation and child abuse prevention services, to name a few. Facing budget uncertainty as the school year began, a number of local school districts were forced to cancel programs that depend on state funding. Head Start and other early childhood education programs are shuttered. Youth workers have been laid off. Behavioral health professionals are working without pay. Many wonder how much longer this situation can last. And yes, each day does matter to kids who need these services.

What’s next? The Governor and leaders of the Senate are reportedly meeting to come up with a new spending plan. Frustrated with the delay, the Senate has been threatening to pass its own version of a spending bill. One concern is that it would be based on the dreaded SB 850, which the Senate passed in June. That bill called for deep cuts to basic education spending, pre-K, Head Start and a host of other programs. (Click here for cuts to children’s programs in SB 850:
http://pccychildwatch.blogspot.com/2009/07/senate-bill-850-vs-governor-rendells.html.)

A House revenue plan and a separate Senate appropriations plan could very well put us back at square one. Try telling that to the parents and early childhood education providers who are already talking about mobilizing for the next election—that is, if they survive this budget impasse.

• Ask your Senator and Representative to bring a greater sense of urgency to this year’s budget negotiations and to enact fair and sustainable revenue options next year.

• Ask your state Senator to support the House revenue plan.

Click here for contact information:
http://capwiz.com/pccy/state/main/?action=setaddr&view=myofficials&state=PA&address=&azip=19119&city=&bzip=1499&permanent=on

Friday, September 25, 2009

What Does The Budget Impasse Mean for Neighborhoods?

Lest readers think the state budget crisis is over simply because our elected officials announced that it’s over, let me tell you how the crisis continues to be felt at the neighborhood level.

This afternoon I attended a meeting of child care providers from around the city who gather regularly to address shared concerns. Often discussions tackle issues like how to make the bureaucracies providers interact with more responsive to their needs. Sometimes they focus on the quest to obtain affordable health insurance for the child care sector. Once a year the group holds a gala luncheon for hundreds of child care practitioners, at which they honor programs that have met higher quality standards over the past year.

Today the conversation was all about the state budget. About the importance of sticking together to advocate for the needs of families with young children. About holding legislators accountable for the promises they make to expand investments in child care. About notifying parents now that providers will close for a day next spring to lobby in Harrisburg.

Heady stuff. If there were providers in the room who doubt whether they’ll still be in business by then, they kept their doubts to themselves. Many haven’t been paid since June. Some have received only partial payments since the end of the fiscal year.

The story is familiar by now: without a current-year budget, the state hasn’t been able to pay the agencies it contracts with to provide child care for approximately 50,000 low-income children from 0-5 in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Depending on the population they serve, some child care providers receive as much as 90 percent of their income from these reimbursements.

What’s less well-known than the struggle in Harrisburg to pass a budget is the toll this struggle is taking on in neighborhoods. The woman sitting next to me this afternoon told me she hasn’t been paid by the state since June. When I asked how she’s managed she said she and her husband have exhausted their personal savings. Calmly, she told me they can last for one more week before they have to close. (A statewide survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Office for Child Development and Early Learning revealed that 31 percent of providers estimate they’ll be forced to close by the end of September if they don’t receive state funds.)

A number of providers at the meeting have taken out second mortgages on their homes. Some are collecting unemployment and volunteering at their centers. One woman stopped making car payments. Even after state money starts to flow gain, it won’t compensate them for the interest paid on loans, late fees, higher unemployment compensation rates and other fees they’re incurring as a result of this crisis. Still, the discussion stayed focused on solving problems and moving forward.

Then a guest speaker was introduced from the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. He began by talking about resources to help families that are struggling. Then he spoke about mortgage foreclosure, encouraging providers to refer families they work with to various foreclosure diversion programs. He emphasized that there’s no shame in asking for help, and even allowed that “some of you may even be struggling with this.”

A woman raised her hand and asked a “hypothetical” question about renegotiating the terms of a loan. Only it became clear that the question wasn’t hypothetical. Others asked specific questions – too specific to be asking on behalf of friends and neighbors.

If these (mostly) women were strictly in it for the money, they would have closed down weeks ago. But they’ve kept their doors open -- often at great personal sacrifice -- because they care about kids in their communities. Because they know families would have no where else to turn. Because they believe every child has the right to show up on the first day of kindergarten ready to learn.

Please honor their beliefs, hard work and efforts to keep moving forward by urging your legislators to enact this budget quickly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On the State Budget...

As most Pennsylvanians know, legislative leaders and the Governor’s office reached agreement Friday night on a framework for the 2009-2010 budget. They are working to draft a line-item budget and a number of bills that must be passed before this budget can be enacted. This process is expected to take about two weeks.

PCCY urges legislators to continue to work with a sense of urgency to pass a budget based on this framework, as the halting of state revenue to local agencies has had a devastating impact on essential services for children and families. The longer we wait, the more vulnerable they become.

We are encouraged that despite intense pressure to do otherwise, legislators and the Governor agreed on a framework that demonstrates long-term commitment to education and appears to maintain Pre-K services and protect children’s health care. This is quite a feat in this economy, but one we believe was absolutely necessary.

Nevertheless, some local school districts will not receive all the federal economic stimulus funding anticipated from the state. PCCY remains concerned that this will have a negative impact on local school districts. We are waiting to learn how line-item decisions will affect child care subsidies, youth and family services.

The surprise inclusion of a sales tax on tickets to arts and cultural events and the continued exclusion of taxing smokeless tobacco was short-sighted and bad for children and community health. It is unfortunate that the original proposal of a small increase to the Personal Income Tax was not taken seriously by a majority of our legislators, as it would have provided a more comprehensive and fair approach to raising needed new revenue. Likewise, taxes on smokeless tobacco, candy and similar items should have been considered. We must all be part of the movement to develop long-term and equitable approaches to funding essential services for children and youth instead of picking and choosing taxable items in last-minute, back-room deals.

We hope to report more as firm and reliable information on this year’s budget becomes available. Meanwhile, thank you for all your efforts to secure a budget that supports our kids!

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To sign up for regular e-alerts from PCCY go to
http://www.pccy.org/.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Make Sure the Whole Story is Heard

Recent articles (and here, here, and here) in the local Southeast PA newspapers have done a good job of portraying the hardship endured by children and family service providers whose payments have been delayed due to the state budget impasse. Still, this is only half the story.

Deep cuts to children's services -- those found in Senate Bill 850 -- would have permanent devastating effects for all providers and programs. The crisis being experienced currently by the social service community is a taste of what would come to be a chronic systematic disaster were these cuts to pass.

It's important that our editors understand that children and family service providers want both a swift budget resolution and a budget that fully funds children and family services without deep and harmful cuts.

Please take a few moments to write a letter to the editor in your local community to fully explain this position.

Your voice can lend clarity to the budget crisis and aid our legislators in passing a budget that fully funds kids and families.

To send a letter to the editor via email

Should you want to discuss your letter prior to sending it in or need assistance in coming up with ideas, please feel free to PCCY at (215) 563-5848.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rally Delivers Message to State Legislators


More than 200 peo
ple gathered in front of the Media Courthouse on August 11 to raise their voices for a state budget that supports children and families.



Bring
ing together service providers and advocates, the rally addressed both the devastating impact of proposed budget cuts found in Senate Bill 850 and the tremendous impact the budget stalemate is having on programs throughout the Delaware Valley.

The rally was held in Delaware County's county seat of Media, PA, also the legislative district of the major proponent of the budget cuts. It's not too late to encourage your senator to pass a budget that's good for kids! Follow this link to deliver the message to your senator that funding must be preserved for kids' services even if it means everyone pays a little more.




The rally was sponsored by 28 organizations representing a cross-section of advocates and social services that support children and families in the Delaware Valley region. Speakers addresses the proposed cuts impacts on basic education, early education, child care, libraries, the arts, disability services, mental health, work supports, housing, prevention and community development.

For more information on how you can hold a rally in your community to support a budget that fully funds children and families, please contacts PCCY at 215-563-5848.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rally Tuesday to Save Pennsylvania Communities!


Protect families, children and investments in stronger communities by raising your voice for a STATE BUDGET that supports Pennsylvania!

TUESDAY, August 11 12 noon

MEDIA, PA, Courthouse

201 Front Street (Front Street and Veteran’s Square)


In the legislative district of some of the leading voices in the state budget battle
(and loudest proponents of budget cuts!)

Featuring speakers from education, child care, business, housing, prevention services, health, children’s healthcare, disability rights, community development, the arts and more!

Sponsored by Public Citizens for Children and Youth, Women’s Opportunity Resource Center, Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children, ActionAIDS, Greater Phila. Cultural Alliance, Pennsylvania Head Start Association, Pennsylvania Council of Churches and more…

(List in formation. To co-sponsor or for questions, sheilas@pccy.org, 215-563-5848 ext. 12)


Let YOUR voice be heard about the impact of these cuts on the future of your communities! There HAS to be a better way! Join us in telling our legislative leaders to FIND ONE!


To send a message to your state legislators urging them to reject these cuts – even if it requires a temporary tax increase -- click here:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Three Things You Can Do to Help Pass A Budget That's Good for Kids!



Under the leadership of Southeast Pennsylvania’s own “Cool Hand Dom” (Sen. Dominic Pileggi of Delaware and Chester counties) the programs listed below will be slashed – some as much as 100 PERCENT! You can help save them.

1).
WRITE TO THE INQUIRER. Let the Inquirer’s editors know you’re not as impressed with Pileggi’s cost-cutting efforts (see below) as they are! (‘Cool Hand Dom’ a key player in budget battle) Tell them how your community will be impacted by the service cuts that Pileggi proposes.


2). ATTEND A “THANKS FOR THE CUTS, SENATOR PILEGGI!” RALLY THIS Friday (7/31), 12 noon, outside the Senator’s Chester, PA, office,. 415 Avenue of the States, (Bring SIGNS stating your area to be cut. See below.) For more information, contact sheilas@pccy.org, call 215-563-5848, ext. 12 or link to www.pccy.org/ealerts.htm.


Budget Line Item Cuts Under the Republican Budget Proposal
Drug Education and Law Enforcement 100%
Violence Prevention 100%
Police on Patrol 100%
Safe Neighborhoods 100%
Inmate Education 21%
CHIP Program 10,000 Children Cut
Cancer Programs 57%
HIV/AIDS Programs 25%
Regional Cancer Centers 100%
Tourette Syndrome 100%
Hemophilia 100%
Epilepsy 100%
Children's Hospital in Philadelphia 100%
Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh 100%
Fox Chase Cancer Institute 100%
Burn Foundation 100%
Pre-K Counts 50%
Head Start 50%
Adult Literacy 27%
Charter Schools 12%
High School Reform 75%
Science and Math Education 100%
HEMAP 10%
Customized Job Training 54%
Business Retention and Expansion 100%
Small Business Development Centers 62%
Minority Business Development Agency 100%
Housing & Redevelopment Assistance 100%
Grants To The Arts 100%
Long Term Care 100%
Services to Persons with Disabilities 100%
SOURCE: 2009-10 Senate appropriations State General Fund Budget Chart

3).
INFORM YOUR DISTRICT LEGISLATOR . . . he or she needs to stay on the job until the job is done. If you’re in Philadelphia, let them know your city is suspending payments to vendors. No recess until you pass a budget that responds to the education and human service needs of your constituents!


About Me

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Public Citizens for Children and Youth is a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of children in the five-county southeastern Pennsylvania area.