Pennsylvania Leaders Protest Six-Month Budget Impasse, Calling It “Criminal”

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Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Pennsylvania State Capitol Building / Governor Tom Wolf

December 11, 2015; WTAE-TV (Pittsburgh, PA)

When government fails to deliver on its obligations, nonprofits need to join forces with other civic leaders and make their voices heard loud and clear. This is especially crucial when those nonprofits rely heavily on public funding. Nowhere is this situation more acute than in Pennsylvania, where Democratic governor Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature are locked in a budget stalemate that has led to social-services layoffs, threats of school shutdowns, and funding cuts for nonprofit service providers.

WTAE-TV News in Pittsburgh reports on a coalition of civic and religious leaders who sent “a unified message to lawmakers and the governor, urging them to pass a budget so nonprofits that help thousands of people in need can provide services.”

“We are calling on both sides of this debate to stop the ideological bickering and do their jobs,” Bishop David Zubik told the station. “The ones who suffer most from this impasse are the usual victims: the vulnerable, the poor, and the hurting.”

Because of the nearly six-month budget impasse, many community organizations have not received their state funding since the beginning of the current fiscal year on July 1. They either have been spending from reserves or taking out loans to continue operations.

“The human toll is literally criminal, and the economic toll surpasses any gain people think they’re going to make in this budget debate,” said Adrienne Walnoha, executive director of Community Human Services.

If a budget isn’t passed by the end of this year, several organizations will probably go out of business or dramatically cut their services. Laura Ellsworth, the chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, called the situation “unprecedented.”

The crisis remains invisible to most Pennsylvanians, who don’t need aid from community organizations. State employees are still being paid and state-run offices continue to operate. Allegheny County United Way President and CEO Bob Nelkin said the situation would be different if more of the state government was shut down.—Larry Kaplan