Groups Try to Ascertain the Dollars and Cents of This Year’s Budget



Jewish communal agencies in the Philadelphia area received a total of roughly $60 million this past year in state funds, according to officials at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. So, as the political wrangling over this year's budget gets under way — a process expected to take months — communal leaders and professionals are keeping an eye on Harrisburg, hoping to gauge what it will mean in dollars and cents.

Last week, Gov. Ed Rendell unveiled his $59 billion budget proposal, a fiscal blueprint for Pennsylvania that supporters have hailed as reminiscent of President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" program, and detractors have called a far-fetched plan that would place an unfair burden on the state's taxpayers.

Among the proposals on the table is the dedication of $255.3 million for the "Prescription for Pennsylvania" initiative, meant to increase access to affordable health care and reduce health-care costs for employers.

On the whole, Rendell's proposed budget would spell a $948 million, or 3.6 percent, increase over state spending in the previous fiscal year. Robin Schatz, director of government affairs for Federation, said that Rendell's plan to increase overall funding to social-service agencies is good news for Jewish groups.

But she cautioned that the budget may not be finalized until late summer, perhaps even fall.

"The governor is trying very hard not to hurt people in need. He doesn't want to eliminate the safety net," said Schatz.

But she pointed out that a number of new legislators were elected on platforms that opposed new taxes and spending increases, and they may put up a tough fight over this.

Rendell has proposed $3.7 million for long-term elderly home care as a way to bolster alternatives to nursing homes. Schatz said that she was hopeful this could mean state funding for Federation-run NORCs (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities), which provide medical and social services for neighborhoods or apartment complexes with a high numbers of seniors.

The downside to funding such alternatives, stated Schatz, is that it could potentially exacerbate fiscal shortages at area nursing homes, particularly the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life, a 354-bed facility in Horsham.

Andy Bronstein, Abramson's chief financial officer, said that the proposed budget includes a 2 percent increase to long-term-care providers like his facility. But the problem, he explained, is that operating costs are rising by more than 2 percent annually.

He added that roughly 70 percent of residents rely on Medicaid, which is disbursed by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. However, the daily cost for each patient comes to $60 more than Medicaid pays out.

That means Abramson must rely on private donations and other sources to make up the roughly $22,000 yearly shortfall per patient, according to Bronstein.

"There are always people who require nursing home care. It is being significantly underfunded," he said.

Other agencies are just waiting to see how the final budget will ultimately affect them.

For instance, in the previous budget, the Jewish Relief Agency received about $400,000 from the State Food Purchase Program, and the Mitzvah Food Pantry got about $90,000, according to David Rosenberg, director of Federation's Center for Social Responsibility.

Kristen Rantanen, spokesperson for the Jewish Employment and Vocational Service, which among other things offers a host of programs geared toward the mentally challenged, said that Rendell's budget includes a 3.8 percent increase earmarked for behavioral-health services.

She added that in the last fiscal year, roughly $22 million of the agency's $67 million budget came from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.

But next year?

"The math is a little unclear right now," she replied. "And, of course, it's all hypothetical until the budget passes."



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