New PA budget includes increases for child services

Governor Tom Wolf signed Pennsylvania’s FY 2019-20 budget into law on June 28th, 2019. The $33.9 billion budget package was passed by the General Assembly earlier in the week and includes critical increases for programs that create positive outcomes for the children of Pennsylvania.

The  new budget includes:

  • $5 million increase for the Community-Based Family Centers line to support evidence-based home visiting services; this will serve approximately 800 additional families.
  • $10 million increase for career and technical education, split between increasing student access to career and technical education centers in the Career and Technical Education subsidy line item ($7 million) and ensuring facilities have up-to-date equipment in the Career and Technical Education Equipment Grants line item ($3 million).
  • $30 million increase in pre-k: $25 million increase for Pre-K Counts and $5 million increase for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program.
  • $160 million increase in basic education funding for Pennsylvania’s public schools, driven out through the basic education funding formula.
  • $50 million increase in special education funding, appropriately easing the burden of increased costs felt by local school districts.
  • $29.8 million increase in CHIP funding to keep the program at current enrollment and coverage levels, as federal matching funds are reduced to their pre-Affordable Care Act levels, which was anticipated.

The Republican-led Legislature also approved a measure allowing the Wolf administration to take control of Pennsylvania’s online health insurance exchange program. The governor said it would help many Pennsylvanians save money.

“I am proud of the budget before me: More than $300 million for education," Wolf said in a statement last week. “Lower health care costs for at least 400,000 Pennsylvanians. The first major state reforms to combat campus sexual assault. Officially doubling early childhood education funding in five years. Stopping cuts to agencies and other services. Making sure kids start school at age six and stay there until they are 18.”

But he acknowledged disappointment in failing to win approval for an increase in Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, a sore point for many of Wolf’s fellow Democrats.

The minimum wage mirrors the national minimum wage - $7.25 per hour - and is lower than all of Pennsylvania’s surrounding states. Wolf had hoped to raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour by July 1 - and eventually bump it up to $15 per hour.

“I am going to keep fighting tooth and nail for a higher minimum wage," Wolf said in the statement.

Wolf also said that he wants to keep pushing for his Restore Pennsylvania plan. The governor wants to impose a severance tax on natural gas drilling to fund capital projects, including road and bridge projects. Republicans have consistently rejected plans for a tax on natural gas drilling. GOP leaders said the existing impact fees on drilling essentially serve as a tax to help communities.

The governor noted his frustration over the elimination of a cash assistance program that provided a boost to low-income families. Democrats fumed over the loss of the program and debate became so heated it led to shouting matches rarely seen on the floor of the state Senate.

Wolf told reporters on Friday afternoon that it was a difficult decision to sign the bill to eliminate cash assistance. He said he was sorry he had to do that but added it was coupled with language dealing with a hospital assessment “which provides tens of millions of dollars for hospitals in areas that really need that money.”

“In a perfect world I would not have to make this Hobson’s choice,” he said.

Wolf noted that he made sure to include an additional $15 million for low-income housing assistance in the budget.

“This will help a lot of the same individuals who previously received general assistance from the commonwealth," Wolf said in a statement Friday. "It will provide valuable resources to make sure they have a roof over their head. But there is more we can and should do to lift people out of poverty.”

Wolf won a second term last fall after handily defeating Republican challenger Scott Wagner. But to accomplish his goals, the Democratic governor must work with Republicans, who control both the state Senate and state House of Representatives. Even though the GOP has a smaller majority in Harrisburg than it did a year ago, political analysts note that the Republican majority is now more conservative than in the last legislative session.

Still, unlike many other years, Wolf has signed the budget before the July 1 deadline - the beginning of the state’s new fiscal year.

But there is unfinished business.

“I am going to keep working every single day to make progress for the people of Pennsylvania. All of the people," Wolf said in the statement. "And today I am proud of what we were able to accomplish together over the past few months.”

From Partnership for Pennsylvania Families and PennLive