Preserve human services funding in Pa. budget

Wolf Consolidating Agencies
Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media during a news conference last month in Harrisburg.

They are visiting North Park near their home in the Pittsburgh suburb of McCandless, and they head straight to the playground. Max and Jack Cieply bring the place to life with laughter as they race between swing set and slide. Dad, Zach, manages to find energy at the end of his work day to chase after them as mom, Danielle, looks on.

She takes it in as a wonderful moment of normalcy in a young family that could not have imagined it in the first several years of Max’s life. Now at age 7, he is mercifully unaware of his medical ordeals as an infant — three open heart surgeries, removal of a tumor on his spine, and gastro-intestinal issues.

On the opposite side of Pennsylvania, in Warminster, about an hour’s drive north of Philadelphia, Lynn Plewes manages the comings and goings of husband, Len, and children, Emily, 26; Sarah, 23; and Anthony, 16. It is a family moving in many positive directions, including college for Emily this fall in Florida. Lynn is amazed her family has managed to reach such a milestone after years of near-paralyzing worry and financial stress over both daughters’ mental-health issues.

Danielle and Lynn do not know one another, but they each share a deep conviction that state-funded human services have helped keep their families viable, stable, and productive.

And both are angry at the prospect that the services they received might not be available to other hard-working families in Pennsylvania if they’re cut or eliminated in negotiations now underway between state legislators and the governor on the next budget.

With the state facing a $3 billion deficit, providers of essential human services are preparing for significant cuts, and several million Pennsylvania families that depend on them are fearing the worst. That is why we, as the leaders of community philanthropies deeply engaged in funding essential human services, have developed #FamilyFirstPA, a statewide campaign to let legislators and Gov. Wolf know that vital human services must be a spending priority in the new budget.

We are joined by leaders in nearly every sector of life across the state to make the case with legislators. But the most convincing voices in this effort are those of hard-working Pennsylvanians — mothers like Danielle and Lynn — who cherish their families and know how human services have made the difference between making it and not.

For Lynn, crucial assistance came in the form of waivers — wrap-around services for Emily, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a child, and Sarah, who has autism and intellectual disabilities. Funds covered medication, testing, doctors, hospitals, treatment, and eventually, support counseling for the entire family.

For Danielle, the health-restoring services for Max provided through state funding included physical, occupational, hearing, and speech therapies, and a dietitian. Without those services, she says, “we wouldn’t be here. None of us would be here.”

The Cieply and Plewes families are typical of those receiving essential services. And we all are connected to families like them that are dealing with a crisis they can’t manage on their own — a mental or physical health disability, debilitation from aging, lack of sufficient income for life basics, opioid and other addictions to name a few. State-funded programs and services are what enable them to regain control, take care of their own, and earn a living. Without the funding, absenteeism at work increases, productivity decreases, and employers lose millions of dollars.

A recent American Association of Retired Persons Public Policy Institute study determined that one in six full-time employees is caring for an elderly or disabled family member, and seven out of 10 in that group have had to quit a job, reduce work hours, or juggle multiple work schedules to meet their care responsibilities.

Both Danielle and Lynn offer convincing testimony that state government investments in families to keep them viable and productive makes economic sense for taxpayers. Every day, new witnesses join them. But the benefits extend well beyond those in need. By preserving human services support, state officials are preserving a decent quality of life for all of us.

If you agree, write, call, tweet or email your state legislators and the governor, and tell them to protect human services in the budget negotiations. To read more stories of working Pennsylvanians who rely on human services support, go to www.familyfirstpa.org or find the campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

Maxwell King is president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundationkingm@pghfdn.org
Bob Nelkin is president and CEO of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvaniabob.nelkin@unitedwayswpa.org