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Agencies: Will Funding Be Available When They Need It?

May 15, 2008 By:
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Critics claim that Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed budget inadequately funds social-service providers.

Jewish agencies that rely heavily on state funding to provide social services are concerned that what they contend is a broad government strategy to "level fund" certain sectors -- in order to bolster other programs -- will leave them scrambling to meet costs.

JEVS Human Services, the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, and the Jewish Family & Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia are among the agencies slated to go without a cost of living increase in the 2008-09 state budget, sources said.

The deadline for the governor and legislators to agree on a budget is June 30, although invariably the negotiations go later than that. Last July, a budget standoff led Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell to enact a one-day furlough of thousands of state employees.

At a time when costs of all kinds are increasing at an alarming rate -- especially food and energy -- funding that does not include a cost-of-living increase is tantamount to a budget-slashing, according to Carol Irvine, CEO of the Abramson Center in Horsham, which serves as both a nursing home and an assisted-living facility.

Last year, the center received roughly $17 million in state funding. This money is disbursed through Medicaid and determined on a per-resident basis.

"We believe this flat funding will cost us over $600,000, because all of our costs are going up," said Irvine, who added that the bulk of state dollars go toward patient care.

In fact, according to the Pennsylvania Heath Care Association, the situation is the same in all nursing homes across the state. The Glendale Uptown Home in Northeast Philadelphia would be affected as well.

"Pennsylvania's budget should not be balanced on the backs of the elderly," said Dr. Stuart Shapiro, president and CEO of the health-care association. "The governor provides additional funds to a variety of new programs, but has not adequately funded nursing homes in his new budget. It clearly is not a priority."

At $28.3 billion, the proposed general fund budget represents a 4.2 percent increase over last year. According to Rendell's office, more than 40 percent of that proposed increase -- $476 million -- is slated to go toward spending on education. The proposed budget does provide for $4.2 billion in nursing home, as well as home and community-based long-term-care services.

Mike Hall, deputy secretary at the Department of Public Welfare, explained that nursing homes have routinely had their funding increased, while other human-services providers, such as JEVS, have not. Now, the governor is taking the approach that all providers should get the same cost of living adjustment -- and, at least as of now, that is slated to be zero.

Hall added that if all providers received a 2 percent increase, it would cost the commonwealth $108 million -- money he argued the state doesn't have.

"Nursing homes as an industry have done really well under this administration," said Hall, adding that overall funding has increased 22 percent under the Rendell administration.

JEVS also relies heavily on state funding disbursed through the Department of Public Welfare, according to Kristen Rantanen, spokeswoman for the local agency. She estimated that as much as 70 percent of its programming could be affected.

JEVS programs financed through the state include residential and day services for adults with intellectual disabilities, behavioral-health services -- which include substance-abuse treatment -- and home support for the physically disabled.

"We believe that the governor and his administration are very concerned about costs associated with running these programs. Unfortunately, resources are scarce," acknowledged Rantanen.

Holli Elgert, a spokeswoman for Jewish Family and Children's Service, said that the organization's leadership did not wish to comment on the budget process. Other sources said JFCS was facing similar funding issues as Abramson and JEVS.

For much of the last year, Sudan and Iran divestment has been among the top priorities for the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, which represents the interests of federations across the state. But at a recent board meeting in Harrisburg, members stressed the need to press for a cost-of-living increase for Jewish agencies, according to Hank Butler, PJC's executive director.

Butler said that PJC is hoping for a 2 percent, across-the-board increase for social-service providers. He estimated that, statewide, Jewish agencies receive roughly $200 million in funding.

Robin Schatz, director of government affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said that while she was concerned about possible funding shortfalls, the budget is a long way from being finalized.

"Everything is pretty fluid right now," she said. "I'm not going to get too worked up about it just yet."

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