Public Welfare

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!”

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.

The Myths Behind Governor Corbett's PA Budget Myths

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Governor Tom Corbett's May 21 newsletter offered up responses to five "myths" the administration claims are circulating about his proposed budget for next year. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center examined these myths and the myths behind the myths to give you a clear picture about what is fact and what is fiction in Harrisburg.

Governor's Myth #1: Pennsylvania spends more money building prisons than building schools. 

We’re not sure where this one came from, but we will give it a whirl.

Fact: The Corbett administration’s budget includes a moratorium on new school construction projections, and NO FUNDING for school district projects in the pipeline.

Fact: If the Governor’s proposed plan for higher education is adopted, Pennsylvania will spend twice as much on prisons as it does on colleges. In 2009-10, the state's corrections budget was $1.8 billion and college funding was $1.5 billion. If the Governor had his way, Pennsylvania would spend $1.9 billion on corrections and $980 million on colleges in 2012-13.  

Fact: It costs the state much more to house prisoners than it does to educate a child. In 2011-12, Pennsylvania will house 49,000 inmates at a cost of $35,188 per inmate and spend $9.3 billion to educate 1.8 million students at a cost in state dollars of $5,305 per child.

Fact: It is better to build schools than to build prisons. 

Governor's Myth #2: The reductions in higher education funding will cause universities to raise tuition.  

Let the Games Begin: PA Senate Announces Details of Budget Proposal

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Action on the state budget began in earnest Monday with state Senator Jake Corman, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, releasing important details on the Senate budget plan that will be advanced this week.

The proposal would increase Governor Tom Corbett's budget proposal by $500 million, with total spending rising from $27.15 billion to $27.65 billion for 2012-13. The Senate plan rejects $191 million in fund transfers and new revenue and proposes new spending cuts of $165 million. Those spending reductions were not yet detailed.

According to a Capitolwire.com report (subscription required), the Senate budget plan:

Nowhere to Go, More Addicts on the Street and a Ringing Irony

Based on blog posts by Chris Lilienthal originally published here and here at Third and State.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports this morning on the impact of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's proposed budget cuts on the lives of people in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Who is getting hit? Adults with disabilities, the homeless, people with mental-health illnesses, HIV patients needing hospice care, children aging out of foster care, and seniors, among others.

Miriam Hill, The Philadelphia InquirerPeople who will be affected by Corbett's cuts:

Brittany Stevens doesn't talk a lot, but she's a bit of a social butterfly. She was a prom queen and, after a recent performance of the musical Fela!, she spontaneously hugged the dancers, nearly tackling them in excitement.

But Brittany, 21, who is disabled and suffers from seizures, incontinence, hearing loss, and other problems, spends most of her days alone in her North Philadelphia home, while her mother, Harlena Morton, goes to work as a high-school counselor.

Morton had hoped to find Brittany a job in a workshop that employs disabled adults. Now that Gov. Corbett has proposed large cuts to social services programs, Morton fears that Brittany and thousands like her will never get off waiting lists for those spots and for other services...

In Philadelphia, the cuts total about $120 million, not including reductions in medical care, city officials say; across Pennsylvania, $317 million, according to state officials.

The Return of Bigfoot: Telling the Truth about Welfare Spending in Pennsylvania

A blog post by Sharon Ward, originally published at Third and State.

BigfootYou may remember that the Commonwealth Foundation put out a report about welfare spending a couple of weeks ago that we likened to “Bigfoot” because it found something in the Department of Public Welfare — massive fraud, millions of non-working adults — that just didn’t exist.

I had a chance to debate Matt Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation on WITF’s Radio Smart Talk, and I thought it might be a good time to share the facts and give you my four big ideas about how we push back on the destructive framing that the “Bigfoot” report perpetuates.

First, let me give a shout out to the people who called in to Smart Talk to set the record straight on welfare spending and challenge Matt directly on his use of the welfare frame. It was clear to the listeners that Matt was quite deliberately trying to invoke the image of Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen by describing welfare as everything from afterschool programs to autism services. The audience wasn’t buying it and we shouldn’t allow it.

The first step  when talking about this issue, is to define welfare accurately.

1. Welfare is cash assistance.

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.

Combine and Cut: Governor's Block Grant Plan for County Human Services

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

A week after Governor Tom Corbett rolled out his state budget, many people are still trying to make sense of it.

Perhaps the biggest reshuffling in the Department of Public Welfare budget involves the expansion of the Human Services Development Fund, a flexible funding stream used for a wide variety of human services at the county level. This fund has been repeatedly reduced over the past few year. The new budget combines and cuts funding for other programs into a single Human Services Development Fund Block Grant.

All told, the new block grant is funded at nearly $674 million. That reflects a cut of more than $168 million, or 20%. Portions of a variety of health and human service programs ranging from homeless assistance to mental health services to protecting children from abuse would be impacted (see the table below).

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. 

Déjà vu All Over Again: Mid-year Cuts and a Budget Shortfall on Tap for 2012

A blog post by Sharon Ward, originally published at Third and State.

Governor Tom Corbett will announce a new budgetary freeze before the end of the year to help resolve what the administration expects to be a $500 million revenue shortfall, according to Budget Secretary Charles Zogby, who gave the annual mid-year budget briefing on Tuesday.

Secretary Zogby painted a grim picture, as expected. The current revenue shortfall of $345 million could grow even beyond the $500 million current estimate, according to Zogby, and growth in mandatory spending for pensions, debt service and the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) will contribute to a budget for 2012-13 that is short about $750 million.

The Commonwealth plans to resolve the revenue gap with additional cuts. The secretary did not anticipate having "any revenue options" on the table and said he would look for further cuts in "waste, fraud and abuse" in DPW, controlling growth in corrections spending, and scaling back capital spending to make up the difference.

He did acknowledge that the Governor would rather reduce prisons than schools or higher ed and that making cuts was not something the administration relishes — suggesting that the work advocates have done this year may be penetrating.

In a nutshell, the persistently anemic economy is hurting tax collections, and growth in 2012 will be lower than previously estimated, making the 2012-13 budget more difficult than one would expect coming out of a recession.

Secretary Zogby rightly identified areas of built-in growth that will contribute to a structural budget deficit moving forward.

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