With the June 30 deadline quickly approaching, the House and Senate Appropriations committees are in the midst of budget discussions for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. Not only is the General Assembly tasked with allocating how the commonwealth spends its tax dollars, but we have the responsibility of determining how to best use more than $7 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to lift up individuals, families, and small businesses impacted by the pandemic. My budget priorities are closely aligned with the issues we covered in our People’s Budget presentation:
- Public School Funding
Nearly every state in the nation contributes a larger portion of overall public education costs than Pennsylvania. On average, other state governments contribute 48% of total education funding, while Pennsylvania contributes only 38%, placing us 45th out of 50 states in state share of education funding. After factoring in funding from the federal government, this means local school districts in Pennsylvania are burdened with 55% of all public education costs, compared to the national average of 44%. This has left Pennsylvania with an over-reliance on property taxes and some of the largest gaps in the country between wealthy and low-income school districts. According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), nearly 70 percent of PA school districts will need to raise property taxes again next year.
For decades, we have heard that there is not enough money in the state budget to fully fund our schools. Our local school districts have been told to get creative in the face of rising special education, pension, and charter costs and find ways to do more with less. This year, we have a true opportunity to correct our course. Pennsylvania is sitting on a $3 billion surplus in state revenues, in addition to American Rescue Plan funds. It is long past time for the Pennsylvania legislature to take bold steps to fully and equitably fund public schools and special education so that all students have access to a quality education, regardless of their race, ability, or income.
- Increased Support for Care Workers and Direct Support Professionals
Throughout Pennsylvania, we are faced with an existing shortage of care workers and a growing need for care workers and direct support professionals (DSPs) to care for senior citizens and individuals with disabilities. There is only one home care worker for every eight Pennsylvanians in need of at-home care. In Chester County, the fastest-growing county in Pennsylvania, we are seeing our senior population grow at a faster rate than any other segment. With our growing senior population comes an increased need for both home care and nursing home workers.
Care workers and DSPs often deal with varying, unpredictable hours and insufficient wages that often make it impossible for even full-time workers to make their own ends meet. As a result, 60% of home care workers leave the profession less than a year after starting the job, and even more departing after two years. With low wages, lack of basic worker protections, and inadequate training, workers are pushed away from a profession we are in dire need of in Pennsylvania. And until we address these issues, we will never be able to meet the demand for home care workers or provide the necessary care our seniors and adults with disabilities so desperately need
Last month, I joined my colleagues at a rally calling for the allocation of federal COVID-19 relief funds to support those who provide direct care to Pennsylvanians with autism and intellectual disabilities. Every day in Pennsylvania, care workers and direct support professionals show up to care for our loved ones, even throughout the pandemic, when this work came at a risk to their own and their families’ health. These workers are long overdue to receive the wages, health benefits, and overall respect they deserve for doing this essential, meaningful work.
We need to drive resources to the bedside and improve the both quality of care for our loved ones and quality of life for those who provide their care. It is beyond time that the legislature take action and support our healthcare workers and DSPs.
- Disability Waitlist
In Pennsylvania, individuals with physical disabilities or intellectual disabilities and autism may use the home and community-based services (HCBS) waiver system to cover their necessary support and care. This includes both care services and accessible housing and employment opportunities, granting people the opportunity to live more independently.
The HCBS system has been in a chronic state of underfunding and crisis for years, with more than 12,000 people on the HCBS waitlist and more than 5,000 of those in the “emergency” category, meaning they need services immediately, or in no later than six months.
We need to fund and reform this ineffective system and prioritize the needs of vulnerable Pennsylvanians on the HCBS waitlist.
Between American Rescue Plan funds and $3 billion in greater-than-expected state revenues, we have a once-in-a generation opportunity this year to invest in our communities and help Pennsylvanians who need it most. I am committed to working toward a state budget that addresses our Commonwealth’s ongoing challenges and reflects the values and priorities of our district.