Overdue budget squeezes social service providers

    Social service providers in Pennsylvania are struggling to serve clients and pay staff as the budget talks drag on in Harrisburg. More than a week after legislators announced a budget deal, details have yet to be worked out, and funding for service providers remains on hold.

    Social service providers in Pennsylvania are struggling to serve clients and pay staff as the budget talks drag on in Harrisburg. More than a week after legislators announced a budget deal, details have yet to be worked out, and funding for service providers remains on hold.

    Listen:

    [audio:090929mssocial.mp3]

    With the budget long overdue, many social service providers have not received payments from the state in months, leaving them strapped for cash and struggling to pay their employees and bills. Some are operating on credit, others have reduced wages and laid off staff.

    Tim Wilson heads the Philadelphia Alliance – an association of over 40 agencies that provide services for people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

    Wilson: The agencies that are impacted by the money not flowing from Harrisburg, are almost three months into the fiscal year now and getting desperate. Even if there were a deal today, it would likely take five or six weeks before the state money faucet would start to flow.

    The Caring People Alliance of Philadelphia has reduced wages and laid off 110 employees. The agency provides behavioral health services for children, families and older adults. CEO Arlene Bell says the recovery process will be slow, even if a budget deal happens in the next few days:

    Bell:
    In the next days, we’ll be maintaining a base level of services in all of our programs, and we will not be able to talk about paying people appropriate wages nor bringing anybody back, that’s probably something to look at in the latter part of October or November.

    She is also worried that the loss of staff will cause lasting damage:

    Bell: I’d like to think that we can put it back together again, but it will be like anything that’s been broken and glued back together again, there will be some cracks we’ll have to work with that.

    Governor Rendell has set a new budget deadline for Sunday.

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