Better Choices Memo to Governor Wolf and the General Assembly RE: Human Services

The Better Choices for Pennsylvania coalition sent a memo to Governor Wolf and the Members of the General Assembly on June 27th, 2015, advocating for a 2015-16 budget that restores funding that was cut from human services in recent years and that increases investment in the services that improve the quality of life for Pennsylvania's most vulnerable residents.

The text of the memo is included below.


To: Governor Tom Wolf and Members of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania

From: The Better Choices for Pennsylvania Coalition

RE: 2015-16 Budget and the Need to Invest in Human Services

Pennsylvania needs a new direction. For far too long, our commonwealth has been relying on tax cuts as its cure for all ills. It has not worked. While the wealthiest Pennsylvanians are prospering, too many in the state are struggling to make ends meet.

Chronic underfunding of human services programs combined with funding cuts enacted in recent years have left working families, people with disabilities, senior citizens, children, and the agencies that provide assistance to these populations struggling to do more with less. We need a responsible budget that restores funding to these vital programs and increases investment in the services that help our most vulnerable citizens to live, learn, work, and thrive in Pennsylvania.

In order to accomplish this vision, we need to raise revenue in a way that makes our tax system fairer for vulnerable communities and middle-income families. Earlier this year our coalition suggested multiple ways of raising revenue fairly, including a recommendation for property tax relief. We are pleased that there is bipartisan interest in addressing the challenges that property taxes pose for some homeowners in particular communities, but we encourage legislators and the Governor to support reforms targeted to low-income homeowners and renters, prioritizing relief to communities where property taxes are particularly high. Additionally we oppose any property tax relief proposals that would remove the sales tax exemption on food, as this would create profound hardship for the lowest income Pennsylvanians and increase demand for food assistance.

We, the undersigned organizations of the Better Choices for Pennsylvania coalition, call on Governor Wolf and the General Assembly to work together to enact a 2015-16 budget that uses new revenue to increase funding for vital services that provide critical assistance to Pennsylvanians facing significant challenges. Some of our top priorities are noted below.

People with Disabilities and Their Families

· An increase of least $18.9 million to offer waiver services for an additional 1,000 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and $372,000 to offer waivers to 50 adults with autism. This would still be a decrease compared to the level of people taken off the waiting list from last year, and we need to see more funding put towards ending the waiting list for intellectual and developmental disability services.

· A $5 million increase in state funds that would leverage an additional $18 million in federal funds, intended to draw down the full available federal match for the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and decrease poverty and unemployment for Pennsylvanians with disabilities.

· An increase of $4.8 million to begin restoring funding to Community Base funds that were severely cut in 2012-2013.

· $952,000 in increased funds to transition 50 individuals currently residing in state intellectual disabilities centers to the community.

· An increase of $500,000 for the Office of Developmental Programs to increase job opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

· $3.55 million in the General Government Operations line item to fund Adult Protective Services.

· An increase of $13.76 million to serve an additional 1,140 people in the Independence, OBRA, and Commcare waivers.

· $2.36 million in additional funds to serve 324 more people in Attendant Care.

· An increase for the Centers for Independent Living (CILs) from $1.91 million to $2.32 million.

· An increase of $15 million for Keystone Communities with assurance that some of the increase will support Accessible Housing home modifications and the rehabilitation or construction of affordable, accessible homes.

Mental Health

· An increase of $55 million for mental health services, raising overall funding to $787 million.

Domestic Violence & Rape

· A $1.5 million increase to $16.8 million for services for victims of domestic violence, including emergency shelter for victims fleeing their abuser, counseling to help heal the emotional wounds of abuse, and civil legal representation for victims as they navigate the court system.

· A nearly $900,000 increase to $9.6 million for rape crisis services.

Housing

· An increase of $20 million for the Homeless Assistance Program to prevent and address homelessness, and to prevent the larger costs to the commonwealth associated with homelessness.

· An increase of $1 million for the Human Services Development Fund to allow counties to provide more supportive services to homeless residents.

· The establishment of a future statewide revenue source for the state Housing Trust Fund, PHARE, with no impact on the 2015-16 budget. Adopt language now to direct a portion of future growth in revenue from the Realty Transfer Tax to PHARE.

Drug and Alcohol

· An appropriation of $20 million in emergency funding for the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs for the treatment of those who have experienced overdose from opioids.

Food Security

· An appropriation of $21 million for the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP), which has been an essential tool for Pennsylvania’s food banks and food pantries in the effort to help our most vulnerable citizens supplement their meager food budget. The FY 2014-15 budget provided $17.438 million for SFPP, essentially flat-funding the program for yet another year. To keep pace with increases in food prices, the program would need $25.7 million to break even. An appropriation of $21 million represents the mid-point between the current funding and what would be required to make up for the loss of spending power due to food cost inflation since fiscal year 2006-2007.

· $3 million in funding for the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS), another important state program that helps both farmers and those in need by identifying surplus farm products and distributing them to fight hunger. PASS has received no dedicated funding in recent years.

Working Families

· An appropriation of $500,000 to $1 million for the Family Savings Account Program, a Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) program that helps Pennsylvania families become financially stable.

· A $2 - $5 million allocation for the Pennsylvania Community Development, a DCED program that supports job creation, job growth, and economic development.

· Increase the Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit program by $18 million to allow nonprofit organizations to partner with private businesses to provide more food, job training, education, crime prevention, and housing and community development.

Please contact us for more information about any of these priorities. We hope to continue the dialogue with you as you strive to enact a budget that moves Pennsylvania forward.

Respectfully,

The Arc of Pennsylvania

Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition

Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley

The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, Inc.

Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger

The Health Committee for Persons with Disabilities

Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania

Hunger-Free Pennsylvania

Just Harvest

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania

Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania

NAACP National Board of Directors Member Jessica Butler-Grant

NAACP Media Area Unit

PathWays PA

Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Pennsylvania Council of Churches

Pennsylvania Head Start Association

Pennsylvania Recovery Organization-Achieving Community Together (PRO-ACT)

Philabundance

Raising Women’s Voices of Southeastern Pennsylvania

The SHARE Food Program, Inc.

Women Organized Against Rape

WOMEN’S WAY