PJC director: State budget cuts could have been worse for Jews
The new Pennsylvania state budget, which Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law last week, came as no surprise to Jewish service agencies that have been preparing for months for the deep cuts into funding for education and human services.
“We’ve been telling Federation programs since January to prepare for the worst,” said Hank Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, the lobbying arm for Jewish entities in Harrisburg. “The governor made no qualms about it that he was going to cut programs from the budget.”
The $27.2 billion budget raises no new taxes to compensate for a drop in state revenues and the loss of federal stimulus money, leaving a 10 percent decrease in funding to public schools, an almost 20 percent decrease in funding for the 14 state-owned universities, and a 0.5 percent decrease in funds for the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), which provides medical care for the poor, subsidized child care and services for the elderly and disabled.
Despite the deep cuts, Jewish agencies didn’t get hit that hard yet, according to Butler.
“We did very well with the EITC,” he said, citing the budget’s $15 million increase in funding for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which allows businesses to get a tax credit for donations to a nonprofit scholarship or educational improvement organization.
“That helped us tremendously,” Butler said, noting that scholarships to some Jewish schools in the state had been put on hold because of depletion of funds.
“The EITC saw a 25 percent increase from last year,” Butler said. “I know several applicants who are now going to get in Jewish programs who would not have.”
Still, the state budget cuts will challenge such services as food pantries and long-term care for the sick and elderly.
“The combination of state and federal cutbacks are negatively affecting JF&CS’s client population, including the elderly, unemployed, individuals and families suffering from food insecurity and the disabled,” Aryeh Sherman, president and CEO of the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh, said in a prepared statement.
“JF&CS continues to see an increase in demand for these types of services, anywhere from a 30 to 60 percent increase in need depending on the program,” Sherman continued. “In the current environment we don’t anticipate the state supporting any new initiatives to meet the increasing needs in our community. We are in a different economic environment so JF&CS is trying to react as creatively and effectively as possible.”
The PJC is working with the Department of Aging on a daily basis, Butler said, and is in close touch with the DPW, “to make sure we stop this downslide of funding.”
“Some areas were hit hard,” he said, “but overall it was what we were expecting, and what we were telling Federations to prepare for. We’re still trying to figure it all out. But he (Corbett) did what he said he would do.”
“This was the first big hit, but hopefully, with the economy picking up, we are hoping to see a gradual increase in the budget,” Butler added. “This has been a very, very tough budget year. I hope to not have a budget year like this for a long time.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)