The sanctity of the social safety net was the key issue voiced by several speakers at a Thursday night budget hearing hosted by state Rep. Pam DeLissio.
A new initiative by DeLissio, the event was a forum for constituents to voice their thoughts about the state budget as presented in February by Gov. Tom Corbett, which was described by DeLissio as being “very austere.”
She said the meeting, held at the conservatory of the West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynywd, was first of its kind in the state.
With the typical process for voicing concerns about such issues having involved private correspondence, DeLissio said she felt a need to do something local and public for constituents of the 194th District, which covers Manayunk, parts of Roxborough and extends into Montgomery County.
“There’s little opportunity for stakeholders to have input,” she said in regard to the budget process.
Concerns about budget cuts
First to testify was Tracey Lavallias, president and CEO of the Northern Home for Children, a Roxborough-based facility that has provided assistance for children and families in need since 1853.
Lavallias called for the full restoration of the social services originally cut in Corbett’s budget.
With the continued reduction in funding of block grants for social services, Lavallias suggested that the need for assistance won’t go away. Rather, it will be transferred to other systems that are less cost-effective but ill-equipped to render care.
Asking DeLissio for her assistance, Lavallias spoke of ethical impacts.
“What better example could we be,” he said, “that we will not tolerate any action that will hurt our citizens, especially those who are the most vulnerable.”
DeLissio responded that she plans to frame this as an economic issue to Corbett.
Like manufacturing, she said, human services are a “sector” that provides both employment and revenue. In addition, DeLissio noted that when social programs are defunded, the costs are often shifted to the criminal justice system.
Former Rep. Manderino addresses issue
In a unique role reversal, Kathy Manderino, senior vice president of Intercommunity Action (Interact) and former 194th District legislator, spoke of the impact cuts would have on her organization, a not-for-profit health and human-services agency that specializes in the treatment of children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Enumerating the various services provided by Interact, Manderino said that many of its programs are funded in full or in part by the state, with the difference filled by federal and private funding.
In light of public-funding cuts, Manderino observed that non-profits like Interact have attempted to fill their budget gaps with aggressive private fundraising initiatives.
“However, the gaps have grown so large that they cannot be filled,” she said.
Expanding upon the history of human services budgeting, Manderino said that non-profits traditionally relied upon endowments or fundraising for “extras,” with core services funded by government.
“Frankly,” she said, “private funding has been stretched too far.”
DeLissio then remarked on the difficulty of running a business based on the generosity of others, as it diminishes the potential for long-term, strategic planning.
For Manderino, it’s a notable public-policy shift.
“Government has a responsibility to meet the needs of people with intellectual disabilities,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do. Government used to pay for what it cost to do that.”