Cindy Shapira, chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, joined local business, religious and nonprofit leaders in the Strip District last Friday for a press event to denounce the nearly six-month impasse of Pennsylvania’s budget.
Standing beside Morgan O’Brien, president and CEO of Peoples Natural Gas Co. and board chair of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Maxwell King, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation, and Robert Nelkin, president and CEO of the United Way of Allegheny County, Shapira decried the lack of governmental results in Harrisburg.
“It’s critical that we get this back on track and that we not accept this,” said Shapira.
Shapira referenced two community programs adversely affected by the budget impasse: Mollie’s Meals and Anathan Club. Mollie’s Meals is a kosher Meals on Wheels program that provides home-delivered meals to seniors and homebound adults; Anathan Club is a supportive daytime program that allows older adults to remain socially active by providing activities in a safe, warm environment. Both of the programs, which are administered by the Jewish Association on Aging, are at risk of ending, Shapira said.
Adam Hertzman, director of marketing of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, explained that the Federation has adopted the role of funder in order to prevent program and service cessation.
“The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has advanced part of our beneficiary agency allocations to a number of our beneficiary agencies because a number of programs get state funds,” said Hertzman.
Playing the role of benefactor, though meritorious, is not sustainable, maintained Hertzman.
“Part of the point of the Federation is we’re able to be financially flexible in situations like this when our beneficiary agencies are under the gun, but this can only last so long.”
When asked how many of the Federation’s beneficiary agencies have been affected by the budget impasse, Hertzman replied by email, “We believe that all of the following Federation beneficiary agencies have been affected by the Pennsylvania state budget impasse: Community Day School, Yeshiva Schools, Hillel Academy, JAA, Jewish Community Center (due to its services for the aging and the disabled), Jewish Family & Children’s Service (due to some government-funded social services) and Jewish Residential Services (due to funding from the state for mental health).”
Riverview Towers may also be affected, said Hertzman.
Also disrupted by the budget impasse is the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC), a program that provides tax credits to eligible businesses contributing to a scholarship organization, educational improvement organization and/or a prekindergarten scholarship organization.
According to the program, eligible Pennsylvania businesses include those that pay any of the following taxes: personal income tax, capital stock/foreign franchise tax, corporate net income tax, bank shares tax, title insurance and trust company shares tax, insurance premium tax (excluding surplus lines, unauthorized and domestic/foreign marine), mutual thrift tax, malt beverage tax and/or retaliatory fees under section 212 of the Insurance Company Law of 1921. If the eligible business contributes to a scholarship organization, such as the Pittsburgh Jewish Educational Improvement Foundation (JEIF), the eligible business may receive up to $750,000 in tax credits.
Hertzman maintained that the budget impasse presents a sizable risk to those involved with the EITC program. He said that to date the commonwealth has not released approval letters to EITC donors. Without those letters, and no guarantee of tax credits, businesses may not contribute to the program.
“The huge risk is that if EITC donors don’t get approval letters by the end of the year they have to file taxes without tax credits in place, and it’s therefore of no monetary benefit to give those dollars,” said Hertzman. “A huge reason why companies donate money through the EITC program is because they get a tax benefit, and that disappears as of Dec. 31.”
Of all the programs and services currently affected by the budget impasse, Hertzman said, “The single biggest risk to our beneficiary agencies is the approximately $1.8 million in EITC.”
That money provides 700 need-based scholarships to Pittsburgh-area children whose families would not otherwise be able to afford Jewish day school tuition, said Hertzman.
“The schools are really at risk because of the EITC money. They really rely on it for scholarships,” said Shapira.
John Lydon, CEO of Auberle and chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, echoed these sentiments and said that unless the EITC program is reinstituted by Dec. 31 the money will be lost for an entire year.
From a stage in the new facility for Community Human Services — a nonprofit organization with a self-described mission of “empowering individuals and families to live in stable housing, connect to community resources, build relationships and access quality food” — Shapira, Lydon and fellow leaders described how the state budget delay has strained programs, services and organizations throughout Pittsburgh.
Lydon claimed that 30 shelters will close by the end of this month if funding is not restored.
Morgan O’Brien, president and CEO of Peoples Natural Gas, maintained that thousands of Pennsylvanian nonprofit organizations have been forced to borrow money in order to stay afloat, “Every day in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, there are new stories of cash-strapped nonprofits forced to take on debt and cut back on their missions as the budget impasse continues.”
Accepting debt for survival is not a solution, said Laura Ellsworth, partner at Jones Day and chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. “These organizations are running out of capacity to borrow funds, and critical services will be completely shut down, causing massive harm to people who need lifesaving assistance.”
“The budget impasse needs to be resolved and resolved now,” said Bishop David A. Zubik, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. “While this partisan political bickering has gone on month after month, filled with grandstanding on all sides, the ones who suffer from the impasse are the usual victims — the vulnerable and the voiceless, the poor and the hurting.”
Zubik, Shapira and the other leaders called for immediate passage of the spending plan negotiated and agreed to by Gov. Tom Wolf and state legislators.
“These aren’t policies, politics or positions. These are people. People are being hurt by this impasse,” said Zubik.
“It’s time to say ‘no’ to the budget impasse and make sure it never happens again,” said Shapira. “This is counter to the values that define us in Pittsburgh and certainly should define the values in Harrisburg.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.