Human service organizations are getting months-delayed payments from the state, but many say interest payments, layoffs and other disruptions mean they are still feeling the impacts of Harrisburg's long-running budget dispute.
“The budget impasse has had far-reaching consequences for our organization,” said Grace Coleman, executive director of Crisis Center North, an organization that works to assist victims of domestic violence in the northern and western regions of Allegheny County.
In addition to paying back interest on a loan, Ms. Coleman said, her group must work hard to make up ground they lost during the time they would normally be fundraising from individual and corporation donations, special events and foundations.
“We're absolutely [still] feeling the effects of this,” she said.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed a partial budget in late December, nearly six full months after the July 1 start to the fiscal year. Mr. Wolf and Republican legislative leaders spent months wrangling over a spending plan, and ultimately still have not agreed on a final budget for the fiscal year, though the partial agreement in place allowed funds to go out to human service providers.
At First Step Recovery Homes in McKeesport, which provides transitional housing for men with substance abuse issue issues, chief executive officer Keith Giles has been able to re-hire some of the nine people his organization had to lay off in September.
“We’re really hurting right now,” he said. He has not been able to hire back everyone who was laid off, and the months without a full staff left his organization far behind in necessary administrative paperwork, he said.
Some organizations are also fearful they will have to endure another round of a budgetary stalemate again later this year.
“What I'm struggling with is paying off my line of credit by the end of March,” said Ruth Fox, executive director of the Allegheny Family Network, which nearly laid off its entire staff in October, but was saved by last-minute stopgap funding from Allegheny County.
“I have to get my line of credit paid down, so I can use it again if I need it,” Ms. Fox said.
And while the continuing interest payments are certainly one of the most tangible reminders of Harrisburg gridlock, several human service leaders said they viewed one of the longest-lasting lasting impacts as an overall feeling of their work being devalued by lack of timely funding.
“It has really affected morale,” said Bernadette Bianchi, executive director of Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Family Services, which unsuccessfully sued the state last year to try to force payments to the foster family agencies and group home service providers the organization represents.
Stephen Christian-Michaels, president and CEO of Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, says he is fearful the impasse could impact his ability to recruit staff for years to come. Family Services provides a number of programs in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, such as drug and alcohol services, services to help older adults remain in their homes and not go to nursing homes, and helping people visit incarcerated family members.
Laura Maines, executive director of Every Child Inc., which works to place children in foster homes, said, “There's a broken trust with the state government.”
Kate Giammarise: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.