A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a meeting of the Philadelphia delegation of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Present were 22 state representatives, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera, Secretary of Human Services Ted Dallas, Mayor Michael Nutter, City Council president Darrell Clarke, SRC members, and Superintendent William Hite, among many others. The topics were the discussion of the state budget impasse and budgetary goals. In the audience were dozens of social service providers from the City and State levels. They included services for: child care/foster care, food equality, juvenile justice, people with disabilities and different abilities, legal services, and immigrant, poverty, homelessness, and education advocates. These organizations provide essential services for many people who depend on them. This is an amazing group of organizations led by extraordinary people who require state funding to continue to operate.
For all of the presentation, all of the difficulty with passing a realistic budget that supports public education and all of the social services, there still has been little progress. It has been 89 days since the budget deadline. Nearly three months – for organizations that typically have barely enough funding to cover their operating budgets. Government does not and cannot attempt to do the great work at: ARC, PCCY, SHARE, Education Voters, PILCOP, Congreso, and many others. We are now in a major crisis. Many of these organizations have drawn on credit lines to keep their services going, their employees working, and populations served. Those credit lines are dwindling. Their money is running out, fast. As the budget impasse continues, there will be higher and higher consequences which will likely include the closures similar to those during the 2009 budget impasse.
We were told of the political difficulties of moving a Republican-led legislature. We agree that representatives were “preaching to the choir”. We understand that it is critically important to ensure that government restore critical funding eliminated during the Corbett administration. What we did not hear was an effective Call to Action. Yes, we were told to contact our legislators (who happened to be many of the very same people in the room). We were asked to make alliances with service organizations in other counties, in the attempt to persuade their legislators.
It was awesome to be a part of this meeting, but the public does not see was going on. We see a lot of talking, lack of movement, no pushing to get to the end. If this is as dire as presented, and it is, then where is the alarm? Rather than preaching at us, our elected officials need to return to their base; we don’t need them just to inform us of the things in Harrisburg but to talk with us about our issues.
Our Call to Action is clear.
People need to call, write, email, text, tweet their legislators. We, the people, have to share our stories to highlight the human cost of this political budget impasse. We have to tell them who we are, how important these organizations are to maintaining life, and what will happen if they have to close. Our legislators need to hear that these organizations have been providing the services that our government has let slide. Who else handles indigent youth, immigrant services, foster families, trauma care, food insecurity, and mental health needs. Who else educates our students with different abilities like Overbrook School of the Blind? A school which operates on 60% state funding and prepares students for gainful employment and independence.
If you or a family member receives services, your legislators need to hear from you. This not a Philadelphia issue, there are people who rely on social services in all parts of this Commonwealth. Your story is important and crosses political lines. With these stories, we fully expect that our legislators with use their power to rally agreement and get us what we need. We need our legislators to take our stories to their committees, the House and Senate floor, radio and TV shows, letters to the editor, blogposts, and donors. We need hear you talking about our realities. We need you to show the human cost of partisanship.
In the end, our elected officials should be working on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness instead of money, power, and the pursuit of politics.
Ready for action? Find your legislator here.