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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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.