Daily Must Reads: Budget Cuts HIt General Assistance, County Human Services, Early Childhood Education

With the race to finish the state budget under way in Harrisburg, newspapers are taking a look at the fallout of budget cuts and how they will hurt citizens across Pennsylvania. WHYY's Newsworks reports that the state is getting ready to cut off General Assistance benefits effective next month, but no one is telling the people who will be directly impacted.

An internal memo from the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare reached service providers in Philadelphia Friday. The memo outlined steps to terminate benefits for those receiving general assistance on July 1, but those recipients don't know that yet.

The funding for cash benefits to about 70,000 clients who are disabled, receiving drug or alcohol treatment or leaving abusive homes, is eliminated in the proposed Pennsylvania budget. About 30,000 of those who would lose benefits live in Philadelphia.

If the recipients of benefits can't pay their rent next month, they have few options, according to human services providers in Philadelphia. "They could go to Ridge," said Michael Froehlich of Community Legal Services, referring to Philadelphia's largest men's shelter. "Oh, wait, that's closing June 30."

The Allentown Morning Call takes a look at the proposed 10% cut to county human services and the revolt it has prompted in the state House. Republican Representative Gene DiGirolamo is leading a coalition in the House to restore more funding to county human services and turn the block grant plan favored by Governor Tom Corbett into a pilot program.

House Human Services Committee Chairman Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, said he's pushing to have the block grants eliminated. He's urging the administration to try a pilot program first.

The Corbett administration has argued that the approach will give counties more flexibility to spend the money. But advocates for the poor and disabled point out it means an $84 million reduction in state funding amid increased demand for those services.

The suburban Philadelphia lawmaker said he's received hundreds of letters from both service-providers and those who receive services in opposition to the block grant approach. He wouldn't say how many votes he had lined up in opposition, but said, "I think there are enough people in our caucus who are skeptical. This is not good public policy."

Rep. Robert Freeman, D-Northampton, called the block grant approach a shell game.

"They say they're giving the counties more flexibility, but … they're cutting the funding streams," he said.

Lastly, the Harrisburg Patriot-News takes a look at how state budget cuts are threatening kindergarten and early childhood education in general.

On Wednesday, we’ll know if Harrisburg will become the first school district in the state to eliminate kindergarten.

Looking at the school district — another annual deficit, another year of cutting programs, owing $471 million on past projects — it’s easy to think Harrisburg is the worst example of a broken system.

Perhaps it’s really the start of a trend.

As school boards across the state finalize their budgets, they’re working through a list of programs that, by law, can be eliminated. They’re laying off teachers, closing buildings, limiting transportation and charging kids to play sports.

Kindergarten sits at the bottom of that list, but in many places, the knife is getting awfully close, if it hasn’t broken through already.

The York City School District is scaling back to half-day kindergarten paid for by a federal grant — after increasing taxes 17 percent.

Allentown limited its full-day kindergarten. 

Erie is returning to half-day. So is Woodland Hills. So is Bristol Borough. So is Fleetwood. So is Cocalico in Lancaster County. So is Reading, which is also eliminating its pre-K program.

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