Pittsburgh leaders to the Legislature: Pass a budget!
December 11, 2015 11:25 PM
Bishop David Zubik was one of the civic leaders calling for a state budget.
By Joyce Gannon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bishop David Zubik joined Pittsburgh business and civic leaders Friday in calling on the state Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf to end the budget impasse because of the toll it’s taken on nonprofit agencies that use state funds to provide critical services to the homeless, the hungry, the elderly, and other poor and vulnerable populations.
“We are not here to take sides in a political debate ...we are here to call on all sides in this debate to stop the ideological bickering and do their jobs,” Bishop Zubik, head of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said at an afternoon news conference held at the Strip District offices of Community Human Services, a nonprofit that provides housing, a food pantry and other assistance to low-income individuals and families.
Maxwell King, president and chief executive of the Pittsburgh Foundation, said the aim of community leaders and nonprofit representatives who spoke publicly Friday was to send a message to the Legislature and administration in Harrisburg that, “Enough is enough.”
“This is nonpartisan. It’s time to get the budget done,” he said. The delay “is a tragedy that has hurt nonprofits … and the state’s reputation.”
Adrienne Walnoha, executive director of CHS, said the budget stalemate, now approaching its six month, has created the greatest crisis in her agency’s history.
Since last month, CHS has turned away new referrals of people who need housing help and has tapped its reserve fund as it awaits $3 million in state funding to provide services, said Ms. Walnoha.
“The safety net is gone,” she said.
Business leaders who spoke at the event included Laura Ellsworth, a partner at law firm Jones Day and chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce; and Morgan O’Brien, chief executive of Peoples Natural Gas Co. and chair of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
The foundation estimates that about $765 million in state funds go to human service programs managed by counties statewide.
Many nonprofits that provide the services through government contracts have cut programs, secured bank loans, and reduced staff and other overhead since the state fiscal year began July 1 without a budget.
At the Neighborhood Academy, a private school in the East End whose students are from low-income families, some meals and after-school programs may be eliminated soon if state funds aren’t released, said the Rev. Thomas Johnson, head of school.
“There’s a moral and spiritual imperative here” to reach a budget compromise, he said.
Beyond seeking an end to the current impasse in Harrisburg, the local leaders said they want reform to the budget process so that social service agencies don’t face an operating crisis every year.
“In a matter of weeks many organizations will have exhausted their reserves and loans,” said Robert Nelkin, president of the United Way of Allegheny County.
Several agencies funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh are on the verge of shutting down some services, said Cynthia Shapira, chair of the federation’s board of directors. Those include a Meals on Wheels program for the elderly and a program that assists individuals with dementia at an adult day care facility.
“This is appalling,” she said of the budget delay. “It’s so unbelievably important that we send this message to Harrisburg.”
The Legislature was not in session today, though House members are scheduled to return to the Capitol on Sunday evening and senators are slated to return Monday.
This weekend marks the annual Pennsylvania Society gathering in New York City, a weekend of soirees and fundraisers in Manhattan typically frequented by top lawmakers, though some have cancelled their plans to attend this year in light of the prolonged budget impasse.
The Senate this week passed a $30.78 billion budget supported by Gov. Tom Wolf — though it has yet to approve a tax bill that would be part of the deal — and the House has passed its own, lower-spending $30.26 billion plan.
John Lydon, chief executive of Auberle, a McKeesport agency that provides emergency shelter, foster care and other services for at-risk children and families, said members of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership have been pushing for a budget deal by visiting legislators’ offices in Harrisburg and the Pittsburgh region and by making calls to legislators and the governor’s staff from volunteer-staffed phone banks.
Kate Giammarise contributed. Joyce Gannon: email@example.com or 412-263-1580.
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