Pa. social service agencies tap ‘shoestring reserves’ during budget stalemate

     Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf talks about his budget priorities Monday at the Willow Hill Elementary School in Abington Township. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf talks about his budget priorities Monday at the Willow Hill Elementary School in Abington Township. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

    While Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans hold dueling press conferences about the unfinished state budget, some local social service agencies are starting to feel the pinch.

    With state funding halted during the budget impasse, money to operate county and independent agencies is coming from a variety of reserves.

    Speaking to reporters at Willow Hill Elementary School in Abington, Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf vowed to stand by his budget priorities — including restoring cuts to education, a severance tax and property tax relief — even if it causes “temporary pain.”

    What that “pain” looks like depends on the organization. Dolly Wideman-Scott, executive director of the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, said her organization is currently operating on “shoestring reserves.”

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    “We’re really only spending funds for our basic operations, to keep the lights on,” she said Monday.

    The Center, which serves more than 3,000 women and their families annually, is also leaning on donations and partners to maintain the current level of services.

    “Now when individuals are asking how can we meet your needs, we’re asking for basic things, such as paper products,” she said.

    The Family and Community Service of Delaware County isn’t feeling the pinch just yet, according to Alan Edelstein, executive director. The organization has deep reserves just for situations like the  budget impasse.

    “We have encountered this situation unfortunately in previous years,” said Edelstein. “One of the years, the budget did not get passed until December. That one we actually got hurt by.”

    He said many agencies have lines-of-credit with banks, but those are the last resort as providers can’t be reimbursed for interest assessed by banks.

    Local governments are also stepping into help keep their service providers afloat. Montgomery County approved cover $3.5 million in costs for the month of July, but spokesman Frank Custer said a plan for August is still in the works.

    In an email, Chester County spokeswoman Becky Taylor said, “Chester County will be reimbursing those organizations that have provided valuable services to Chester County families for the month of July – including the many services that are mandated by the state to be continued, even in the absence of a state budget.” That decision will be re-evaluated monthly, as the stalemate drags out.

    In Delaware County, the Department of Human Services went through a prioritization process to decide how to allocate funds.

    According to Director of Human Services Joseph Dougherty, the county continues to reimburse agencies that receive the major portion of their budgets from the state. Organizations with more diversified budgets — such as providers that can bill for Medicare and Medicaid — are not being reimbursed at this time.

    “We’re losing about $7 million a month in state funds,” said Dougherty of the current shortfall. He said he expects that money to be paid retroactively when a new budget kicks in. Meanwhile, he said,  Delaware County is evaluating which agencies to fund on a weekly basis.

    As counties make contingency plans, the wheels of politics grind on the Capitol. While the governor was in Montgomery County promoting his budget, House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said in Harrisburg that he might seeking to override the governor’s veto of a Republican-authored budget earlier this month.

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