As budget crisis continues, human service providers tap out resources
As the state budget impasse approaches 110 days, local human service organizations are pinching pennies to avoid staff layoffs, extend credit lines and continue to serve their communities. But for nonprofits that rely on government contracts, no budget means no cash.
Congreso de Latinos Unidos has been trying to fund its $500,000-a-year domestic violence program, but they haven’t seen a dime for that initiative in months. They have had to turn away at-risk women because the organization simply couldn’t afford to take on any new cases.
“If someone is in an acute situation where they need a plane ticket, train ticket, first month’s rent, we can’t provide them that support now,” Figueroa said.
On top of that, Congreso cut its after-school program from 750 to 450 kids. It suspended its parenting classes because they aren’t sure if and when a new contract will be funded, what with the parenting portfolio risking a $2 million cut. Some staff members were temporarily laid off and then brought back — but only thanks to the 17 percent of “unrestricted dollars” that make up Congreso’s budget.
Staff cuts have a direct impact: “We can’t deliver service to communities if our staff can’t get paid." But there is a microeconomic impact as well, as about 45 percent of Congreso’s staff live in the low-income community they serve.
Meanwhile, Figueroa laments that both sides of the aisle carry on as usual in Harrisburg. Hers is a common criticism during budget stalemates.
“The part that has been unfair is that the state legislators are being paid,” she said. “In my opinion they should be sequestered. Every waking hour that they’re working they should only be working on this budget. Because they’re not paying nonprofits who are serving the most vulnerable communities ... Everyone wants a fair budget to support the human services and education work going into the future, but now we’ve cut flesh to the bone.”
Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM) is in a distressingly similar predicament. In order to pay their bills and survive the impasse, APM’s entire 275-person staff may take a 20 percent pay cut (25 percent for senior staff). They intend to reimburse that income after a budget passes, but the debt doesn't stop there.
Close to 70 percent of APM’s contracts come from contracts with the city and state. Even their federal money — a dollar-for-dollar matching of state funds — remains in limbo without signatures on the budget. As is, the organization can’t pay their subcontractors either. This particularly strains the adoption services program, as they can not pay out subsidies for foster parents.
“Some of the foster parents won’t be able to be foster parents anymore without that extra funding,” Rick Olmos, APM’s director of communications and external affairs, told AL DÍA.
Olmos highlights the quandary for organizations like his, especially those that initially supported Governor Tom Wolf’s budget proposal (which sets aside $11.6 million for human services): “Do we push for the stop-gap budget? Do we push for the stop-gap budget that’s only for social services?”
Many human service nonprofits in the Latino and African-American areas of North Philly have already overextended their lines of credit to help them get through. State Rep. Leslie Acosta said that several of them have called her office with concerns. These band-aid measures like salary cuts and limited services only last for so long. Some, like Congreso, are optimistic about the budget's arrival in early November. But even in two more weeks, APM, Congreso, and dozens of other human services providers like them in Philadelphia will be even more desperate.
“The request is for both sides of the aisle to come together and realize the only people they’re hurting are the people they serve,” Olmos said.
What’s happening to these providers in Philly is happening across the state. As one social service agency told the Post-Gazette in Pittsburg: “We’re delaying every damn expense that we possibly can.”
Legislators will convene next week in Harrisburg to hopefully resolve the impasse. By that time, the state will be approaching the 120-day mark without a budget.