Poverty

Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind

By Michael Wood, Third and State

Federal health care reform is moving forward thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year — and it is a great deal for Pennsylvania. Unless the state decides to “opt out,” Medicaid coverage will be expanded to include many Pennsylvanians who are uninsured.

One group that will benefit immediately are parents with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level ($25,390 for a family of three). The benefits don’t end there: others who don’t receive health coverage through their work will be able to buy insurance on a competitive health marketplace or exchange — making coverage more affordable.

However, if Governor Corbett prevents the Medicaid expansion, it will create a coverage gap for families between 46% and 100% of poverty, as the chart below shows (click on it for a larger view).

Those families between 46% and 100% of poverty earn too much to qualify for Medicaid (for a family of three, this means earning over $8,781 but less than the federal poverty line of $19,090). These families won’t receive Medicaid coverage, and they won’t receive subsidies to buy health coverage.

We all benefit when more people have health coverage. Let’s make the right decision in Pennsylvania and expand Medicaid coverage.

Pa. Budget: Failing to Invest in a Stronger State Economy

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Despite ending the 2011-12 fiscal year with a $649 million fund balance, Pennsylvania fails to make the investments essential to building a strong economy or to reverse a recent trend where job growth in the commonwealth has lagged behind other states.

So concludes the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center analysis of the enacted 2012-13 state budget, which was released Friday.

In the final budget, the General Assembly restores some of the cuts proposed by Governor Tom Corbett, while leaving intact a 10% cut to human services and deep cuts to public schools and higher education made in 2011. The budget continues to shift costs to local governments and taxpayers, while adding new tax breaks for businesses.

The spending plan, at $27.656 billion, is $517 million more than the Governor’s February proposal but remains below budgeted 2008-09 levels, despite four years of recession-driven increases in demand for services. The largest cut in this budget comes from the elimination of the General Assistance Program, which provides a temporary monthly benefit to 68,887 Pennsylvanians who are sick, disabled or escaping an abuser. It ends next month

Cuts to education enacted last year, meanwhile, have diminished the quality of instruction in our poorest school districts and resulted in the loss of 14,000 jobs in 2011.

PA Starts New Fiscal Year with $400 Million in the Bank

By Michael Wood, Third and State

After a less than stellar May, General Fund tax collections bounced back strongly in June — exceeding estimate by $170 million, or 6.5%. This narrowed the 2011-12 revenue shortfall to $163 million, or less than 1% of total estimated collections for the year.

As a result, the state ended the year in a much better fiscal situation than projected back in February, when Governor Tom Corbett released his budget plan. Counting the dollars the state had in the bank, Pennsylvania actually started the fiscal year with a $400 million fund balance.

The recently enacted budget acknowledged this but only to a point. The Legislature increased General Fund spending in 2012-13 by $655 million from the Governor’s  proposal — restoring funding in a number of important areas: higher education, accountability block grants, and half of the 20% cut proposed for county services included in the now-rejected Human Services Development Block Grant. Lawmakers also found funding for another round of business tax breaks.

However, June collections indicate more could have been done — for General Assistance recipients, environmental programs, and child care. Lawmakers also passed on setting aside any of the additional revenue in the Rainy Day Fund.

Click here for the Tale of the Tape.

The revenue surplus in June was led by corporate tax collections — coming in $180 million higher than the monthly target, or 38%. After falling short of estimates for seven of the first eight months of the fiscal year, corporate taxes ended June with a small surplus of $39 million, or 0.8%.

The Human Cost of Eliminating General Assistance in Pennsylvania

By Kate Atkins, Third and State

Since the Great Depression, Pennsylvania has had a General Assistance (GA) program — a small cash benefit that serves as a bridge to self-sufficiency for the temporarily disabled and for victims of domestic violence and addicts seeking help to turn their lives around.

Since the Great Depression. Until late last month when state lawmakers adopted a new budget.

That budget will end Pennsylvania’s modest benefit for 68,000 people, effective August 1. At $205 per month, nobody was getting rich from the program. Here is a sample of who is using General Assistance and why:

A disabled military veteran in Lancaster County, who applied for General Assistance to get him through until his Social Security disability benefits were approved.

A waitress in her 50s who was diagnosed with breast cancer and used General Assistance when she could not work as she was receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment. After about nine months, she was able to return to work.

Good Samaritans who are caring for children not related to them — perhaps children of a close friend of neighbor. Many of these children are now likely to end up in the foster care system.

A very focused group of young women I saw at a recent rally in Delaware County, who chanted: “Pennsylvania, we need GA. We’re in treatment, we need to stay!”

"Winners for the Losing Team:" An Inspiring Speech At Penn by Geoffrey Canada

Over the years, some great speeches have been given at the University of Pennsylvania. As an undergraduate long ago, I was responsible for bringing Robert F. Kennedy and Jackie Robinson to Penn. (An invitation I sent to Martin Luther King, Jr. shortly before his tragic death led to his gracious telegram of regrets). And I remember being thrilled with optimism after hearing labor leader Walter Reuther address students at the Wharton School. Much more recently, I attended enthusiastic speeches by Barack Obama and Bill Clinton there.

But perhaps the greatest of all Penn speeches, from my perspective at least, was one I did not attend: Geoffrey Canada's address to the University of Pennsylvania graduating class of 2012, reported in great detail by Maarvi Singh, of Penn's Class of 2013, in the July/August Pennsylvania Gazette, Penn's high quality alumni magazine. See http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0712/gaz01.html. The text of the speech can be found in The Pennsylvania Almanac at http://www.upenn.edu/almanac/volumes/v58/n34/comm-canada.html . A You Tube tape of the speech (with better sound quality than the one posted on the You Tube site itself) can be found at http://wilkes-university.blogspot.com/2012/06/penn-2012-commencement-add... .

Geoffrey Canada was one of seven recipients of honorary degrees in May, and his speech stole the show, relegating even a thoughtful sppech by Penn President Amy Gutmann calling for more societal collaboration and describing current graduating students as the "collaboration generation" to the sidelines.

Piecing Together the PA Budget Framework

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Some details emerged Thursday about the state budget framework unveiled midweek by Governor Tom Corbett and legislative leaders, but questions still remain. More details may be available later today when budget spreadsheets are released.

Funding for county human services is one area that appears to be in flux, as some House Republicans continue to voice concerns about a plan to block grant and cut that funding. 

A number of GOP House lawmakers want to add more dollars for the mental health and mental disability programs in that mix, said [Rep. Mario] Scavello.

A Senate-approved bill restores half of the $168 million spending cut for the human services programs initially proposed by Mr. Corbett. House members would like to restore even more money but have to balance that with cuts elsewhere, he added.

Although the statewide association representing county commissioners recently agreed to a two-year phase-in for the block grant, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-18, Bensalem, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, said he's trying to stop the block grant altogether and substitute a pilot program for several counties instead ...

The seven programs considered for a block grant include community mental health and mental disability services, the human services development fund, homeless assistance, child welfare grants, the Behavorial Health Services Initiative and Act 152 drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Predatory Payday Lending Bill Flies Out of Cramped PA House Committee

By Mark Price, Third and State

Room 148 of the State Capitol might as well double as a Capitol broom closet. That's where the House Consumer Affairs Committee this morning rushed out amendments to House Bill 2191, which legalizes predatory payday lending in Pennsylvania.

The amendments to HB 2191 were misleadingly pitched as adding more consumer protections to the bill. Even the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society took a look at these amendments and said they do "nothing to mitigate the already harmful aspects of HB 2191," and that one amendment "actually worsens the problem it claims to solve."

One focus of the amendments this morning was language banning renewals or rollovers of a payday loan, as if that was a solution to stopping the long-term cycle of debt. It is not.

The Future of Health and Human Services in PA

Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, was on WITF's Radio Smart Talk this week to discuss the state of health and human services in Pennsylvania. She squared off with Matt Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation.

She explained that it was important for the commonwealth to spend taxpayer money wisely, but that current policies were resulting in eligible Pennsylvanians, including thousands of children, losing their health care.

Rather than taking away health care from children or jeopardizing the nursing care of seniors, state policymakers should look at alternatives, including closing tax loopholes and ending corporate welfare.

You can listen to the show at WITF's web site. Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Abandoning Pennsylvanians

Governor Tom Corbett unveiled a 2012-13 state budget Tuesday that abandons middle-class Pennsylvanians and our most vulnerable citizens.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has a full analysis of the Governor's proposal. Here's the quick version.

With this budget, the Governor continues to turn his back on middle-class families who rely on good schools and affordable college tuition.

Help for the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians is reduced or eliminated. Tens of thousands of families and children have already seen health and other services terminated. This approach is not about finding efficiencies or cutting waste but rather cutting off help to people who have been hit hardest by the recession.

And while there is a call for greater accountability for every dollar in spending, businesses are let off the hook based on claims that they will create jobs in exchange for tax cuts that now total more than $1 billion.

This is not the path to a stronger economy or a better Pennsylvania.

We'll have more to say in the weeks ahead. For now, you can learn more by reading our analysis.

Must Reads: State of The Union, Stimulus and Austerity Economics PA Style

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

Tonight President Obama will deliver his State of the Union Address to Congress. We are expecting the President to recommend an extension through the end of 2012 of extended unemployment insurance benefits and the payroll tax credit. It looks as though a major theme in the address — besides the catch phrase “built to last” — will be conventional policies aimed at reducing inequality, such as increased spending/tax credits for education and training.

Education and training are important and fruitful means of reducing inequality, but they fall well short of what's needed to reduce the degree of inequality we now face.  A more forceful step in the direction of reducing inequality would include raising the minimum wage and making it easier for workers to form and join unions. We don't expect to hear the President call for either of those changes.

The President will propose paying for his new initiatives with higher taxes on wealthy households. As with education and training, restoring some sense of fairness to the tax code is a laudable goal but longer-lasting reductions in inequality will only come from policies that allow the pre-tax wages of more Americans to rise as the size and wealth of our economy grows.

Manufacturing, energy, job training and middle-class growth will be the cornerstones of President Barack Obama's speech tonight as he takes to the nation's grandest political stage for the annual address on the state of the union, according to senior advisers.

Must Reads: Where Is the Shared Sacrifice?

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

When the economy is as weak as it is today, the prudent approach to the state budget is a balanced approach that looks to cut spending and raise additional revenue. A Patriot-News editorial this morning points out that nonprofit groups providing services to victims of domestic violence and rape, as well as people with severe health problems, have been particularly hard hit by the last several years of budget cutting.

The last couple of years, especially 2011, have been tough ones because of state funding cuts, and this year might not be much better. As lawmakers and the governor look at another difficult budget — introduced in February — they need to think hard about what further reductions in funding to charitable groups will mean in communities across the state...

Some of the testimonials in the latest survey [by the United Way] show the grim reality for many people seeking help:

A shelter director said, “For the second year in a row, our shelter has turned away more battered women and their children than we were able to house, due to lack of beds.”

“We are unable to provide health center services as we were before. A nurse is only at the center 16 hours per week vs. 40 hours,” one service stated.

“We’ve had to tell people wanting to get their GED that they had to seek services elsewhere,” a provider said.

“Ms. Smith has ALS and needs a device to be able to communicate in her last days. However, she is on a waiting list to borrow the equipment she needs,” added another.

New Year, Same Old Economic Austerity

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

From November 2009 to November 2010, Pennsylvania added 63,300 jobs. From November 2010 to November 2011, the state added just 51,000.

Wait, isn't that backwards? Nope. A weak economy, the end of federal Recovery Act funds and state budget cuts slowed the pace of Pennsylvania job growth in the most recent year.

The big question mark going forward is whether the pace of job growth in the Commonwealth will continue to lag the rest of the country. Key will be whether school districts continue to face large budget deficits.

The news out of Stroudsburg this morning suggests this is going to be another challenging year for the Pennsylvania job market.

Larger class sizes, staff reductions, eliminating elective courses for students or a wage concession are possible remedies to close a projected $9.8 million deficit in the Stroudsburg Area School District budget, said Business Manager Don Jennings.

As school districts continue to add people to the unemployment lines, the Corbett administration is looking to make the situation that much worse by adding costly new regulations to address a problem that doesn't exist. 

How Much Does Child Poverty Cost the Economy?

A blog post by Chris Lilienthal, originally published at Third and State.

At a conference this week, a presenter posed an important question that doesn't get asked very often: How much does child poverty cost our economy?

Based on an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey data, researchers estimated that child poverty costs the nation $500 billion annually in foregone earnings, involvement in crime, and the costs associated with poor health outcomes. In Pennsylvania, the cost is $17.5 billion annually, based on the 2006 data showing 465,000 (or 17%) of children living in poverty.

In effect, this is money that would accrue to the U.S. and Pennsylvania economies if we took steps now to end child poverty once and for all, such as investing in education, health care and other vital family needs. And with poverty rates higher today in the wake of the recession, the benefits of doing so would be that much greater.

We have long grappled with the social costs of poverty and what it means for families across Pennsylvania and the nation. It's also critical to look at poverty as a huge economic and jobs issue.

Lori Pfingst of the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, who took the national data and broke it down by state, explains:

Hard Times In Pennsylvania and Debates About Higher Education

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

The Mercyhurst College Center for Applied Politics has released to The Philadelphia Inquirer the results of a poll asking Pennsylvanians about the impact of the economy on their lives.

The poll found that one in four Pennsylvania residents has had someone living in his or her household lose a job or be laid off in the last 12 months — and two out of three had close friends or family members who were put out of work in that time. More than three out of every four Pennsylvanians said they knew individuals or families who struggle every month to afford basic needs such as rent, utilities, health care, clothes, or food. 'The poverty question was startling,' said Joseph Morris, a professor and director of the college's Center for Applied Politics, which conducted the poll, 'as was the fact that a strong majority of Pennsylvanians have had to make lifestyle changes because of the economy.'

The Mercyhurst College Center findings mirror those of the State of Working Pennsylvania 2011:

Recessions Drive Up Poverty Rates

A blog post by Chris Lilienthal, originally published at Third and State.

This will come as a little or no surprise to most people, but poverty rates rise following recessions. The economists at the Keystone Research Center recently put together this chart to make that point, using poverty data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS), going back to 1980.

Recessions Drive Up Poverty Rates in PA and the U.S.

(Click on the chart to make it larger.)

The Census also released data from its American Community Survey (ACS), which we highlighted last week and fellow blogger Stephen Herzenberg discussed recently on Radio Smart Talk (skip ahead to the 40-minute mark for Steve's segment).

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