By Kaitlyn Foti, firstname.lastname@example.org, @kaitlynfoti on Twitter
Publisehd AUGUST 8, 2015
POTTSTOWN >> The personal impact that is looming for human services in Montgomery County was palpable Monday morning at First United Methodist Church.
Politicians, advocates and those who depend on those services were gathered to hear Ted Dallas, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, speak about the state budget impasse. The aim was to put a human face on the cuts and absent funding to services as a result of the seven-week-old budget stalemate.
“When I got started, memos would come in saying ‘we have cases of this’ and ‘cases of that,’ and I would say, no we have people dealing with this and that,” Dallas said. “It is something we see with bureaucrats and distance they think they need to do their jobs.”
Dallas has been going around the state, talking to advocacy groups that deal with human services to emphasize that a protracted budget impasse takes a terrible toll on those who depend on human services, and that Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget adds funding for those services.
Wolf’s budget was rejected by the House in a 193-0 vote in June. A Republican-backed budget passed both the House and Senate but was vetoed by Wolf, leaving the state without a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
In Pottstown Monday, Dallas was joined by several Democratic politicians, including Montgomery County Commissioners Josh Shapiro and Valerie Arkoosh, state Reps. Madeleine Dean, D-153th Dist., and Mary Jo Daley, D-148th Dist., and Michael Brody, the president and CEO of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Each took their turn speaking against what Shapiro called the “anemic budget” put forth by the Republican-controlled Legislature. He said human service funding was one of the areas that Wolf’s budget aims to bolster.
“We need you to be on the legislators’ doorsteps and explain what you do,” Shapiro said. “Too often you can sit in the beautiful rooms of the Capitol and look at spreadsheets and forget it’s about people.”
In Montgomery County, $33 million has been spent by county government to replace state funding for human services that has been stalled by the impasse. Shapiro said that money goes to senior centers that provide meals for the elderly, programs to prevent child abuse and drug addiction, financial support for residents with physical and mental disabilities, and much more.
While the county is picking up the check for these services, commissioners and human service providers alike are wary of how long that line of funding is sustainable.
“While our legislators are on recess until the fall, human service organizations across the commonwealth are contemplating how long they can continue to pay their hardworking employees, how long they can continue to provide vital services to our fellow citizens with disabilities, and how long they can keep their doors open without payment,” Brody said.
Standing before a sympathetic crowd, it appeared that the speakers were preaching to the choir, but in fact, they were mobilizing it. Several speakers advised the crowd to contact Republican state legislators to appeal for a budget not only to pass, but to include increased funding for human services.
“I think people in Harrisburg need to hear the voice of the people that need these services,” Dallas said. “They need to know that there are real people behind this.”
The secretary followed word with deed, as he spent time after the event speaking with Aislinn Beam, of Pottstown, who had come to express concern that without the services she receives, her life could fall apart.
Beam explained that she has bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder and that peer support groups are the only place where she can talk with others who understand what she is going through.
“I can take all of the medication that you can give me but if I don’t have this, I’m lost,” she said.
She expressed gratitude for the interest Dallas took after the event.
“He really sat down and talked to me. He let me know he was concerned and gave me his email because he said he wanted to make sure I don’t get lost in the shuffle,” Beam said.
The seven-week impasse is leaving a lot of uncertainty among human service providers, but Shapiro said that there is hope on the horizon.
“At a high level there is constructive dialogue going on. The Republican Majority Leader, Dave Reed, is trying to come up with a reasonable solution. Gov. Wolf is trying to come up with a reasonable solution,” he said. “If folks like that can be around the table, it can come to a resolution.”