Budget Briefing: Government that Works – Health and Safety
February 09, 2016
Over the past year, Governor Tom Wolf has worked hard to make sure Pennsylvania’s government is responsive and responsible in fulfilling its duty to provide essential social services for our most vulnerable citizens.
For government, there is no greater call or responsibility than ensuring the health and safety of citizens. Governor Wolf made this a major priority in 2015-2016 by expanding health care for more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians, battling the heroin and opioid crisis, improving benefits for kids receiving CHIP health insurance, funding four new cadet classes for the Pennsylvania State Police, and protecting consumers from dramatic insurance premium increases.
But we are at a crossroads. Pennsylvania is facing a nearly $2 billion deficit that will balloon to more than $2.6 billion in the coming years. The deficit is a ticking time bomb over Pennsylvania. When it explodes, we will be forced to cut funding for human service programs and senior assistance in order to balance the budget.
We can build on the progress made in the past year by continuing to improve the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians with smart investments, continuing the fight against opioids, and helping seniors receive the medical assistance they need. Or we can choose a different path and our looming deficit will force deep cuts in human services and senior assistance.
FAILURE TO ACT
It is time for the legislature to work with Governor Wolf to honestly address the fiscal crisis facing Pennsylvania. A failure to address this problem will lead to serious harm to our most vulnerable populations:
Deep Cuts in Prescription Drug Assistance
We will lose nearly $200 million in services to Pennsylvania seniors including prescription drug assistance and home and community based services. Pennsylvania seniors who depend on that assistance will be forced to pay more out of pocket and some will have to choose between paying for groceries and paying for the medicine that keeps them alive. These are our elderly parents and neighbors, and they are counting on this funding to pay for the medicine they need. But if we don’t have a budget, we can’t help.
Loss of Funds For Treatment of Mental Illness
We would lose nearly $180 million in assistance for people living with mental illness or intellectual disabilities. These Pennsylvanians are the most vulnerable among us, and they are counting on our help to live a full life and contribute to their communities. But if we don’t have a budget, they will be denied significant opportunities to improve their lives.
A Difficult Reality for Working Parents
We will lose $40 million in state funding for child care, and thus forfeit nearly $50 million in federal matching funds, for a total cut of nearly $90 million. Hundreds of thousands of working parents are counting on our help to have some peace of mind and the ability to earn the living upon which they raise their families. But if we don’t have a budget, 211,000 Pennsylvania children will have nowhere to go.
Less Protection for Crime Victims
We will lose $11.5 million in funding for domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers. Survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault rely on these safe havens to have somewhere to go in the midst of unthinkable pain and unspeakable terror. But if we don’t have a budget, those shelters and crisis centers will have to shut their doors to the people who need them.
Critical programs such as these make up nearly three-quarters of our human services budget. And while the Wolf Administration will always strive to tackle fraud and be as efficient as possible, making cuts that impact single mothers, seniors on fixed incomes, or those who are down on their luck will not solve our fiscal crisis, no matter how often it is repeated in the press or news releases.
CHOOSING A RESPONSIBLE PATH
We can also choose a responsible path: one that addresses our deficit to avoid critical program cuts and makes smart investments in programs that combat some of Pennsylvania’s biggest social crises:
Continue the Fight Against the Heroin and Opioid Epidemic
Pennsylvania has a public health crisis: there were nearly 2,500 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2014 – more than deaths caused by automobiles. And 2015 is expected to be worse. Pennsylvania leads the nation in overdose deaths by males aged 19 to 25. We know that that 80 percent of crime is driven by untreated or poorly treated substance use disorder (SUD). This is a crisis that affects every family in Pennsylvania in some way. To continue the Wolf Administration’s efforts to combat this serious, statewide epidemic, the governor’s 2016-2017 budget provides over $34 million to treat over 11,250 new individuals with SUD and provide 50 new Health Homes for individuals with SUD.
Reform Pennsylvania’s Criminal Justice System
We are at a crossroads in our criminal justice system: we can either commit to changing the status quo by investing in early childhood education and intervention programs and overhauling public policies that have sent too many of our citizens into prison and making them too likely to return after their release. Or, we can continue to spend money building prisons instead of fixing our roads and schools.Governor Wolf’s 2016-2017 budget allots more funding to hire personnel to lower staffing ratios for inmates with mental illness and provides the most appropriate treatment for their needs. Additionally, this budget provides $300,000 to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency for grants to establish problem-solving courts.
Protect Our Farmers and Food Suppliers
The governor, in July 2015, allocated and has preserved $3.5 million for planning and response efforts related to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). This restricted funding has been critical, allowing Pennsylvania’s work on HPAI to continue uninterrupted. The 2016-17 Budget provides $3.5 million to continue these preparedness efforts.
Care for Our Most Vulnerable
The governor’s budget creates long-term stability for essential social services by continuing the effort to restore the 10 percent cut made to human services programs four years ago. The governor’s budget also increases state support by $10 million to support more than 1,900 children and their families through evidence-based home visiting services and provides $12 million to allow an additional 2,400 children currently on the Child Care Works Waiting List to receive care so their parents can continue to work and support their families.
The transfer of CHIP to Department of Human Services will enhance administrative functions, reduce maintenance and operational costs, and combined with federal matching assistance, save the state more than $100 million. Additionally, the move to DHS will allow the commonwealth to identify eligible children who are currently uninsured and connect them to appropriate services.
Read more posts about Governor Wolf’s 2016-17 budget.
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