As the state budget crisis stretches into its fourth month, state funded entities across the Commonwealth are feeling the effects of the political stalemate.
The Erie School District tried to borrow money from the state in order to survive the budget impasse. However, the district’s request for a $47 million no-interest loan from the state treasury was denied, and Erie’s schools will soon be forced to borrow from elsewhere, just like the Philadelphia School District.
Philadelphia and Erie are not alone. School districts across Pennsylvania have borrowed $431 million to keep the doors open during Pennsylvania’s budget crisis, and the total could exceed $1 billion by December, state auditor general Eugene DePasquale said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, members of the Republican-controlled state Senate voted along party lines to adjourn for two weeks—with pay—even as school districts and state-funded non-profits teeter on the brink of fiscal ruin. Every Republican voted in favor of the break, while every Democrat voted against it. The irony of state legislators being paid to vacation is bitter for many, but especially for those who will lose their jobs because the legislators and the governor failed to pass a budget.
At Center in the Park, a Germantown-based non-profit that serves the needs of Philadelphia’s seniors, seven of 29 staffers are scheduled to be laid off this Friday. Six more will be laid off in two weeks, if no budget is in place.
Center in the Park, which serves over 200 hot meals per day to Philadelphia’s seniors, receives 60 percent of its funding from the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), a state funded agency that has been impacted by the budget impasse.
“Without that funding I have reached a point where I’m unable to make payroll,” Center in the Park Executive Director Lynn Fields Harris told me.
“We also informed instructors on Monday that classes with paid instructors will be cancelled until further notice effective November 2,” she added in an email. “We are making every effort to continue lunch and volunteer-led programs, activities and classes.”
Still, there is no guarantee that Center in the Park will be able to do so. In fact, many of the services the center provides are in jeopardy.
In addition to helping seniors navigate the maze of Medicare coverage choices during open enrollment, providing assistance with Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) applications, running chronic disease management and fitness programs, Center in the Park helps Philadelphia’s seniors by providing individualized assistance.
“We assist older adults who are homebound in emergencies, like an 83-year-old woman living alone whose refrigerator just stopped working and she needs help to replace it so that she doesn’t have to choose between eating or buying her medication in order to replace the refrigerator,” Harris told me. “Or, the 73 year old Germantown resident who was diagnosed with kidney disease, was hospitalized for 180 days and found when he returned home that his $88-per-month in SNAP benefits had been reduced to zero for lack of use while he was hospitalized.”
Without state funding, Center in the Park will not be able to help seniors such as those, and given the unique nature of what they do, those services can’t readily be replaced.
“I don’t think there’s another facility doing exactly what they’re doing five days a week,” said Reverend Joseph Williams, Jr., who has been volunteering with Center in the Park for a decade.
“People work a long time and their benefits run out and they don’t have family,” Williams added. “There are a lot of problems facing seniors because people are living longer.”
For now, though, Center in the Park will have to help seniors handle those problems with a skeleton staff and a bevy of volunteers.
Until the budget state impasse is over, they really have no choice.
But state legislators currently enjoying a paid vacation do have a choice. They can resolve to adopt a budget and move Pennsylvania forward. Or they can remain in their partisan corners and watch the vulnerable citizens sink.
Listen to Solomon Jones M – F from 7 to 10 am on 900 am WURD.