A military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling the surrender of those inside is called a siege. With the state budget now five months overdue, thousands of Pennsylvania families with nothing to surrender are wondering why they are under siege.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) and the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association (PCHA) track many elements of the budget debate, especially those line items that assist the poor. From our perspective, here are some key issues at stake:
The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs are legislatively constructed to be legally independent of the annual budget process. Unfortunately, without a state budget, the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) is choosing to withhold the mandatory approval letters to the businesses that applied for tax credits. In turn, the companies cannot make their donations to the scholarship organizations. Thousands of the most vulnerable children are at risk of losing their scholarships. These donations will not be recovered if the tax credit letters are not issued soon.
Nonpublic schools do not receive basic education tax dollars, but their students do benefit from line items that pay for textbooks, materials, equipment, and services that support their secular education through the Intermediate Units. The proposal this year finally achieves equity between public and nonpublic students – the line items increase at the same rate, but Catholic school students cannot benefit until the funds are available. Students are struggling to learn without the necessary textbooks and services they need.
Catholic charities and social services agencies are often the “boots on the ground” that provide services for state-funded programs like housing, foster care, or drug and alcohol counseling. Without a budget agreement, people in need will be turned away. Some agencies have resorted to taking out a line of credit hoping it will be enough to last until the reimbursement funding comes through, but there will be no recovery for the expensive interest paid on those loans.
Fortunately, payments for Medicaid services are still being paid to health care facilities while the state budget impasse remains unresolved. However, the uncertainty is causing difficulties for Pennsylvania Catholic Health Care Association (PCHA) members as they try to develop financial plans to support their ability to continue meeting the needs of the poor.
Saint John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio (The Church in Service to the Family), “ In the conviction that the good of the family is an indispensable and essential value of the civil community, the public authorities must do everything possible to ensure that families have all those aids – economic, social, educational, political and cultural assistance-that they need in order to face all their responsibilities in a human way.”
The programs affected by the state budget impasse are putting a difficult strain on families and individuals who rely on them. Let us pray that our elected officials in Harrisburg will reach an agreement and lift this unfair siege.