Pennsylvania social services agencies ask Wolf, lawmakers for stopgap aid


Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Organizations that administer safety net services in Pennsylvania asked Gov. Tom Wolf and lawmakers on Monday to interrupt their six-week-old budget stalemate by approving stopgap aid to the struggling nonprofit providers that are increasingly taking out loans or shelving services for lack of money.

Kristen Rotz, president of the United Way of Pennsylvania, said agencies that provide food, shelter and other assistance to the needy, neglected and disabled already are cutting services at a rate that she did not expect.

Negotiations are creeping along between the Democratic governor and leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature, and Rotz said human services providers have bleak expectations.

"It's a grim attitude right now," Rotz said. "There's so much uncertainty about the way negotiations are progressing."

In 2009, amid a budget dispute that stretched into October, social service agencies laid off employees, borrowed money or shut down as numerous services slowed to a trickle or a halt.

A survey by a group of nonprofits of 312 organizations in Pennsylvania found that more than a quarter of them expect to curtail services in August, Rotz said. Meanwhile, three in five organizations expect to borrow money in August, with interest costs expected to surpass $1 million by November, according to details released by the United Way.

Joining the United Way were seven other groups, including The Arc of Pennsylvania, Hunger Free Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Family Services.

Under a blend of federal laws, court decisions and constitutional provisions, the Wolf administration continues to pay some bills and keep state employees paid and on the job.

Many larger counties — which are conduits for billions of dollars in state government safety-net cash — are working to front the money for a month or two, delaying some pain at least until September.

In western Pennsylvania, the Women's Center of Beaver County can no longer provide battered women with cash assistance to relocate, money that can be used to pay for moving expenses, a first month's rent, a security deposit or transportation expenses to flee the area. Last year, the organization distributed about $20,000, not enough to meet demand, said executive director Darlene Thomas.

Since July 1, about 10 women either wanted to apply for it or inquired about the program. Instead, they'll have to remain in a shelter longer, or if the shelter doesn't have space, find another shelter or space with a friend or relative, Thomas said.

"How many people have to be laid off? How many people have to lose services? How much money has to be paid in interest?" Thomas questioned.

The House and Senate may return to Harrisburg next week for the first time since July. Republicans are considering an effort to try to override Wolf's veto of the entire budget legislation, or at least certain items in the legislation to funnel aid to certain programs, House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said.

However, a House Democratic spokesman, Bill Patton, said it is not legal to override a veto of money for individual programs, and an override vote must address the entire budget bill. In any case, a successful veto override requires a two-thirds majority approval, and Democrats do not plan to help Republicans override Wolf's veto, Patton said.

Miskin accused Wolf of vetoing the Republicans' entire $30.2 billion budget bill on June 30 to use the social services sector as "leverage" in budget talks. However, Wolf has said the GOP's budget bill would have shortchanged human services.

A spokesman for Wolf said Monday that the governor's $31.6 billion budget proposal rejected by Republicans packed significantly new amounts of money to help wipe out budget-balancing funding cuts for safety-net services enacted under Wolf's Republican predecessor, Tom Corbett.

"That's why his budget is a hugely important step in restoring these state funds," spokesman Jeff Sheridan said.