PA budget: How the poor and vulnerable fared
Thanks to your advocacy, the poor and needy in Pennsylvania will receive more assistance than initially estimated from this year's state budget. However, some programs were cut or received decreased funding. Here is a recap of some of the priority issues for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference:
Homeowner's Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program
The Legislature passed SB 1433, which will enable the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency to reopen HEMAP and start accepting applications for loans this summer. This program has helped thousands of Pennsylvanians over the years by providing loans to homeowners who were faced with foreclosure through no fault of their own
This program, which allowed for a $205 stipend to those truly needy with no other place to turn, was not funded and there is no program to replace it. Advocates for the poor, including the PCC, are extremely disappointed with the elimination of the General Assistance program and will work cooperatively with the governor and the Department of Public Welfare to find alternatives to assist those affected.
Human Services Development Fund
This includes state dollars that go to counties to provide a wide range of human services. Initially, these funds were slated for a 20 percent cut. Upon final passage of the budget, HSDF was cut 10 percent. While we are pleased the full 20 percent cut was not made, the PCC will continue to advocate for funding for these vital services.
The budget line item to fund the state's alternatives to abortion program, Real Alternatives, contained a 5.2 percent increase. In a year where many programs were cut or level-funded, the PCC is pleased with this recognition of the value of life from conception.
Waiting list for people with intellectual disabilities
In an unprecedented but much appreciated move, the final state budget includes funding for special education graduates and individuals with aging caregivers who are on a county emergency waiting list. There are about 16,000 on the waiting list for disability services in the state, and this new money will help many of them access needed assistance. This recognition is very encouraging.
The legislature has moved to implement in Pennsylvania the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoption Act. This plan allows older teens to receive foster care support until they turn 21. Pennsylvania's implementation of this program will present an opportunity for foster care children to prepare more adequately for their adult life.
Additionally, the commonwealth could now save $4.5 million in the current fiscal year and apply for millions of federal Fostering Connections dollars down the road.
Thank you again for your advocacy on behalf of unborn children, the poor and the disabled. To join your voice to the thousands of others speaking out on behalf of Catholics, visit www.pacatholic.org.
Shea is director of outreach for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, public affairs arm of state's bishops and dioceses.