We know that the Gospel instructs us to care for the poor in our community. In fact, Catholics are renowned for their service to low- or no- income Pennsylvanians, assisting hundreds of thousands of our needy brothers and sisters each year through our charities.
What we may not consider is how quickly we could become members of that bracket. The ongoing economic recession has proven that many of us could be one layoff, one medical emergency or one missed paycheck away from needing assistance from our neighbors.
As the state budget is debated in Harrisburg, there are two programs that should receive funding because of the important work they do in assisting those in need.
First, the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP) offers short-term loans to Pennsylvanians who find themselves unable to make their monthly mortgage payments due to circumstances beyond their control.
HEMAP is unique in that it does not offer grants or “bailouts.” Rather, it provides loans to Pennsylvanians who are facing foreclosure because of, among other reasons, an unexpected medical emergency or a layoff. Since its founding in 1983, HEMAP has helped over 46,000 families. Over 85% of these families have been able to remain in their homes for the long term while repaying their HEMAP loans.
In the 2011-2012 state budget, Governor Corbett significantly reduced HEMAP funding, in effect shuttering the program. In its May 28 notice, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency announced that it would no longer accept new applicants, but that if the funds were replenished, HEMAP may be reinstated.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) recently co-signed a letter with nearly 80 other organizations asking Governor Corbett to fund HEMAP in this year’s budget, “HEMAP has been a national model which has been praised by the New York Federal Reserve Bank as a potential solution to the national foreclosure crisis… Moody’s Investor Services have cited the availability of HEMAP to the mortgage portfolio of the PA Housing Finance Agency as a positive to the credit rating of PHFA. They indicated that HEMAP contributed to Pennsylvania’s lower than average foreclosure rate in 2010. The banking industry has also supported HEMAP, as it allows banks to forego acquisition of many foreclosed properties that they do not want.” Simply put, HEMAP works.
Another program up for elimination is General Assistance (GA). The GA program supports the most vulnerable in our commonwealth – those who have no other income and who qualify in one of these categories: disabled or sick adults without children; domestic violence survivors; adults caring for someone who is sick or disabled; adults participating in drug and alcohol treatment programs; or children living with an unrelated adult. In most counties, the monthly GA benefit amounts to $205, a sum that has not been increased since 1990. Fewer than 1 in 200 Pennsylvanians receive this benefit, but for those that do, it is a lifeline. The GA program truly helps the poorest of the poor, those who have no income and who are in seemingly desperate situations. To them, this small amount of money is critical to survival.
“Both of these programs have proven to help those in need and their continuation is necessary for providing a sound, reasonable safety net in Pennsylvania,” said Fran Viglietta, Director of the Social Concerns Department, “We ask that Governor Corbett and the state legislature ensure that those in need are recognized during this budget debate through the restoration of HEMAP and GA.”
Joelle Shea is the Director of Outreach for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.