Nonprofits call for timely budget

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When Marilyn Hall first started losing her sight to Retinitis Pigmentosa, she could cope. She was in her own home and had children to help. Now, however, her children are grown, she is divorced and living in an apartment, and her disease has progressed to the point where she cannot read her mail, pay bills or do laundry without help.

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DO THE RIGHT THING—Urban League of Pittsburgh President and CEO Esther Bush asks legislators not to cut human service funding to nonprofits when the need for services is increasing.

Thanks to Catholic Charities’ Neighborhood Based Services program, she gets that help. But she may not for much longer. Mid-year state budget cuts have already forced service reductions and if the next budget is not delivered on time or reduces allocations to nonprofits further, Hall could be dropped from the program entirely.

“Marilyn is a candidate to be cut. She used to homemaker service once a week, now it’s once a month,” said program Director Sister Linda Kamen. “It’s heart wrenching to see these needs and know you don’t have the resources to meet them.”

Kamen and Hall were among the audience during a May 4 press conference called by representatives of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, who asked that a budget be passed on time and that it not be balanced by cutting funds for social services.

“The legislature hasn’t passed a budget on time in seven years,” said Partnership Chair Mitch Swain. “Last year’s four-month delay caused program cuts an layoffs, including the loss of child care services to 3,500 children. Our community cannot afford another budget impasse.”

Legislators will be scrambling to fill what may grow to a $1.5 billion budget hole by the end of the fiscal year in June. Though none are suggesting raising income tax rates in an election year, several modifications to business and sales taxes previously touted by Gov. Edward G. Rendell —such as closing the “Maryland Loophole” and taxing smokeless tobacco and cigars—could be enacted, but they are not enough to counter the entire deficit.

Meanwhile, said Urban League President and CEO Esther Bush, funding is being cut while the need for services increases due to the dismal economy.

“Last year we cut our housing assistance program in half, and held over 161 cases to this year. These cuts are forcing us to serve fewer people,” she said. “Requests for rental assistance are up 250 percent, but I’m supposed to only help half as many people as last year.”

Bush said though nonprofits like hers get some foundation funding and apply for all available grants, the bulk of their funding comes via state funding directed through the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.

Bernadette Turner, Director of Addison Behavioral Health, said cuts to the mental health, drug & alcohol, and after-school youth services would be devastating to low income communities.

“We can’t afford a repeat of last year. If we don’t provide services for youth in that 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. window, our communities will pay with more body bags in the streets,” she said. “We can’t afford financially, or humanly, to have another impasse. So to our representatives in Harrisburg I say lives depend on what you do.”

Between May 11-14, members of partnership agencies have planned meetings with legislators in regional offices to drive this point home.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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