Local worries mount as state budget stalemate continues

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
The budget impasse in Harrisburg is affecting local social services in Chester County. ((Candice Monhollan)

The budget impasse in Harrisburg is affecting local social services in Chester County. ((Candice Monhollan)

WEST CHESTER — Chester County social service agencies are beginning to feel the strain to their operations as politicians in Harrisburg continue their state budget stalemate.

With the services relying on the state to supply part of their funding, workers are beginning to find themselves worried about the possibility of empty pockets or unemployment.

It has been over a month since the start of the 2015-16 fiscal year. The Commonwealth is prohibited from making many payments during the period, known as a budget impasse.

“It’s really affecting the work of the Domestic Violence Center,” said Dolly Wideman-Scott, CEO of the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County. “We are really having to make some very difficult decisions about how we are operating.”

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The center, which is based in West Chester, is having to dig into its reserves to be able to continue to run for the time being.

However, the reserves won’t last for long.

“We’re really concerned because, even with planning, we’re trying to plan to have at least two or more months in the reserves,” Wideman-Scott said. “Now, we’re in the second month where we are utilizing the reserves. The worst case scenario is we would have to look at decreasing services because we’re not going to have the ability to manage the demand.”

The budget impasse is happening for the third time in just 12 years — the other two being in 2003 and 2009.

Even knowing that an impasse could take place in a given year, it still doesn’t make it any easier for services that may try to plan for one.

“It’s a struggle no matter what,” Wideman-Scott said. “We do have a line of credit, but that’s really not an option. Whatever you spend — any financial resources — you have to pay back. That helps no one.”

Using its line of credit will be something many services will try to avoid at all costs.

Chester County will offer assistance for the services in need, but it may be for a limited time.

Chester County will be reimbursing those organizations that have provided valuable services to Chester County families for the month of August — including the many services that are mandated by the state to be continued, even in the absence of a state budget,” said Becky Brain, the county communications coordinator. “However, our decision to continue to fund the reimbursements during the state budget stalemate will be reviewed and reevaluated every month.”

Chester County is joining many of the bigger counties that are able to front the money while Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature continue their budget battle.

“I’m just really hopefully that the legislative body will continue to think about all of the individuals who are not being assisted by not having a budget,” Wideman-Scott said. “It does impact many. I think that broader perception needs to be in mind and they need to do the right thing and have a budget that will work for the state.”

In the meantime, the Domestic Violence Center is reaching out to the community for help.

“We put notices out on our social media and we have received some donations, but mainly it has been donations of paper products and stuff like that,” Wideman-Scott said. “We continue to do our best to manage and hope for the best.”

With no end currently in sight in Harrisburg, counties will try to assist when money is available while service centers themselves stay afloat as best they can.

“We’re just being really careful about what expenditures we are expensing on now,” Wideman-Scott said. “You have to do what you can do in order to manage and also to do some advocacy. Hopefully a decision will be made so we can have a budget and we can continue to do our important work for individuals in need.”

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Categories: Business, Community, Economy, Political

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