As of this week, several hundred thousand elderly poor and disabled Pennsylvanians will be nickel-and-dimed to help balance the state’s $28 billion budget.
That’s wrong, and all the more unconscionable given a state budget that benefited fat cats while resorting to an expansion of casino gambling to raise revenue.
In reaching their months-late budget deal in October, Harrisburg lawmakers and Gov. Rendell necessarily nipped and tucked state spending in hundreds of other ways.
That’s not a bad thing. But the process went off the rails when it came to a decision to cut the state’s modest monthly supplement provided to nearly 350,000 poor and disabled receiving federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks.
The aggregate savings from the cuts of $9.4 million this year and $22.9 million next year represent a pittance in overall state spending. But the monthly reductions of $5 to $10 will come from SSI recipients already trying to live on only $700 — more than 20 percent below the poverty level.
To some of the disabled — including nearly 130,000 people in Philadelphia and four surrounding counties — the SSI reductions could represent the cost of a prescription co-pay, or a transit fare to the doctor’s or grocery store. But it’s as much the harsh message the state is sending with these cuts that’s so objectionable.
Remember how lawmakers and Rendell spared natural gas drillers from paying a new extraction tax? That levy is being collected in many of the other states where the Marcellus Shale is being tapped.
How about the decision to saddle the state with another expansion of casino gambling to raise $200 million a year? Those state winnings represent a hidden tax on many people who can least afford it.
With such skewed priorities in place, the SSI cuts appear cruel and unnecessary. Although the cutbacks are set to start today, they should be rescinded as soon as possible.
Wouldn’t you just know, the SSI reductions only came to light recently. But now that the secret is out, there’s an understandable clamor growing from advocates and some lawmakers to remedy this insult to the elderly poor and disabled.