Fuming social services get cold comfort from Harrisburg

    Social service providers in Pennsylvania are at a loss. They’re losing money and, increasingly, they’re losing their patience.

    “Those small providers that do really, really good work and are really committed – those people right now are not getting paid,” said Tom Cornack, who runs an early intervention treatment company with his wife Julie in Lancaster County. “Those people have no voice at all.”

    The state budget impasse entered its third month this week. Without a spending plan, the commonwealth doesn’t have the authority to pay contractors – meaning many groups that administer the social safety net are missing a big chunk of their operating budget.

    Some counties have tapped their reserves to continue paying for various social services. But in Lancaster County, payments to most services stopped in July.

    For the Cornacks, the stalemate has meant going in search of a lender. They have bills to pay – like salaries and travel expenses for their roving group of therapists, who work with families of young children, from birth to age three, to address developmental problems. It’s the kind of therapy that can transform a child’s abilities, and research shows it saves money in the long term.

    “We have a three year session … that we have to get with these kids and fix things fast,” said Tom Cornack. “If we don’t do that, these kids will struggle the rest of their life.”

    Julie Cornack, a speech pathologist, sees little justice in the budget limbo, as state parks remain open, while contracted social services are cut off. After months of work, she and her husband obtained a loan to keep their services going, but they worry other social services non-profits will have more trouble.

    “If we had a million rubber duckies sitting in a warehouse, banks would give us, as collateral, millions of dollars — because they’d have something to take back,” said Tom Cornack. “But we don’t have that. We have children, and our accounts receivable are based on those children. It’s not real quantifiable.”

    The political gridlock doesn’t show any signs of easing soon. The Democratic governor blames the Republican-controlled Legislature for not compromising. The Republicans criticize the governor for vetoing their budget. This week, the governor moved to shield negotiations from the media in hopes of hastening a deal.

    “I would like any of the politicians to spend a day with us to see the impact we have on families and what we do every day,” said Julie Cornack. “I think that would maybe expedite their decision.”

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