Nowhere to Go, More Addicts on the Street and a Ringing Irony

Based on blog posts by Chris Lilienthal originally published here and here at Third and State.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports this morning on the impact of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed budget cuts on the lives of people in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Who is getting hit? Adults with disabilities, the homeless, people with mental-health illnesses, HIV patients needing hospice care, children aging out of foster care, and seniors, among others.

Miriam Hill, The Philadelphia InquirerPeople who will be affected by Corbett’s cuts:

Brittany Stevens doesn’t talk a lot, but she’s a bit of a social butterfly. She was a prom queen and, after a recent performance of the musical Fela!, she spontaneously hugged the dancers, nearly tackling them in excitement.

But Brittany, 21, who is disabled and suffers from seizures, incontinence, hearing loss, and other problems, spends most of her days alone in her North Philadelphia home, while her mother, Harlena Morton, goes to work as a high-school counselor.

Morton had hoped to find Brittany a job in a workshop that employs disabled adults. Now that Gov. Corbett has proposed large cuts to social services programs, Morton fears that Brittany and thousands like her will never get off waiting lists for those spots and for other services…

In Philadelphia, the cuts total about $120 million, not including reductions in medical care, city officials say; across Pennsylvania, $317 million, according to state officials.

The Governor’s 2012-13 budget proposes to completely eliminate the General Assistance Program, which provides a time-limited, modest $205 per month benefit to people who are sick or disabled, completing addiction recovery programs or children who would otherwise be in foster care. Again, from the Inquirer:

Michael Froehlich, a lawyer for Community Legal Services, who opposes eliminating general assistance, says the programs are a lifeline for many people, including about 800 children being taken care of by people who are not family members. Many of the caretakers are “Good Samaritans,” and without them, the children likely would be in foster care, which is significantly more expensive, Froehlich said.

“General assistance is an efficient, relatively speaking, way to take care of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens,” he said.

Philadelphia City Paper delves even deeper into the likely fallout from eliminating General Assistance. The long and short of it is that fewer people living on the edge will get the help they need to get back on their feet. And that could produce some public safety concerns.

For an estimated 1,000 to 4,500 recovering addicts in the city on any given day, the only option for getting clean in Philadelphia is checking into one of more than 300 informal recovery houses scattered across Kensington, Frankford and North Philly. It’s a fragile network, administered mostly by former addicts and funded largely through residents’ welfare dollars, in particular the nine-month, one-time General Assistance (GA) payments offered by the Commonwealth.

In Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, GA is eliminated altogether. Advocates say the impact could be devastating, affecting 34,843 Philadelphians who receive GA money (including people with disabilities and survivors of domestic violence) and pushing thousands of addicts out onto the street.

“If you cut all this, the bottom line is that the streets are going to overflow with people,” says Anthony Grasso, co-owner of the Next Step recovery house in Frankford. “Do you know how many people are going to commit more crimes to get what they need?”

Finally, as Supreme Court arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act wrapped up Wednesday, I found this editorial from the Harrisburg Patriot-News particularly interesting.

The ringing irony about this week’s U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the Affordable Care Act is that the law’s core principles were all, originally, conservative. And when they were first promoted, almost no one said they were unconstitutional. …

As late as 2007, Democrats and Republicans introduced a bipartisan bill that included an individual mandate – still seen as an essentially conservative idea. [Former U.S. House Speaker Newt] Gingrich in 2007 argued that “citizens should not be able to cheat their neighbors by not buying insurance, particularly when they can afford it, and expect others to pay for their care when they need it.” 

In other words, the individual mandate is not creeping socialism. It is the opposite. It is about requiring citizens to take individual responsibility in the arena of health care, where the inaction of some costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year.

Food for thought as you listen to commentators, activists and politicians rail against a law that ends coverage bans for pre-existing conditions and other insurer abuses, provides better preventatives care to everyone, ensures children can see a doctor when they get sick, and gives families the tools they need to take responsibility for their health coverage.

Must Reads: Where Is the Shared Sacrifice?

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

When the economy is as weak as it is today, the prudent approach to the state budget is a balanced approach that looks to cut spending and raise additional revenue. A Patriot-News editorial this morning points out that nonprofit groups providing services to victims of domestic violence and rape, as well as people with severe health problems, have been particularly hard hit by the last several years of budget cutting.

The last couple of years, especially 2011, have been tough ones because of state funding cuts, and this year might not be much better. As lawmakers and the governor look at another difficult budget – introduced in February – they need to think hard about what further reductions in funding to charitable groups will mean in communities across the state…

Some of the testimonials in the latest survey [by the United Way] show the grim reality for many people seeking help:

A shelter director said, “For the second year in a row, our shelter has turned away more battered women and their children than we were able to house, due to lack of beds.”

“We are unable to provide health center services as we were before. A nurse is only at the center 16 hours per week vs. 40 hours,” one service stated.

“We’ve had to tell people wanting to get their GED that they had to seek services elsewhere,” a provider said.

“Ms. Smith has ALS and needs a device to be able to communicate in her last days. However, she is on a waiting list to borrow the equipment she needs,” added another.

The Altoona Mirror this morning reports that Blair county officials expect that a new round of budget cuts could further reduce funding for programs that provide mental health services, support for people with autism and child welfare programs.

CCAP Governmental Relations Manager Linda Schaefer advised county leaders to be aware of reduced allocations for state Department of Public Welfare services, specifically mental health, intellectual disabilities, early intervention, behavioral health, autism, child welfare and the Human Services Development Fund.

“Although it is not yet clear how the cuts will impact county funding, the line items of greatest concern to counties will take a significant hit,” Schaefer said.

While shelters turn away the needy and counties brace themselves for another round of cuts to critical public health services, we still don’t have a drilling tax.

Consol Energy has crafted a 2012 capital budget that calls for investing $1.7 billion in development efforts, up $300 million from last year as the company expands its presence in the region’s natural gas fields and increases coal production…

The energy company plans to spend $575 million to develop its assets in the Marcellus Shale gas field, anticipating 122 horizontal wells that include 39 wells in the liquid-rich portions of the play. The company spent $427 million on Marcellus development last year.