Pennsylvania has long supported programs that help those in dire need, providing a sound, reasonable safety net for its citizens. As the state budget is debated in Harrisburg, there are three basic programs that should receive funding because of the important work they do in assisting our brothers and sisters:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Under Governor Corbett’s proposed budget, six human services line items – mental health, intellectual disabilities, behavioral health, drugs and alcohol treatment, county child welfare grants, and homeless assistance – will be cut by 20% and merged into one Human Services Development Block Grant Fund. It is unclear at this time how this block grant will be implemented and how the funds will be distributed at county levels.
Further, a 20% cut in programs that help people with mental health or intellectual disabilities will mean that thousands of Pennsylvanians will have to find these life affirming and even life sustaining services elsewhere. Where will they go?
These programs truly help the poorest of the poor, those who are in seemingly desperate situations. The PA Catholic Conference encourages you to contact your local legislators urging them to oppose any drastic cuts in human services, to restore the HEMAP program and to fund GA in the final state budget.