Morning Must Reads: Nowhere to Go and More Addicts on the Streets

Mark Price is taking today and Friday off from Morning Must Reads, so you're stuck with me.

First up, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports this morning on the impact of Governor Corbett's proposed budget cuts on the lives of people in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Who is getting hit? Adults with disabilities, the homeless, people with mental-health illnesses, HIV patients needing hospice care, children aging out of foster care, and seniors, among others.

Brittany Stevens doesn't talk a lot, but she's a bit of a social butterfly. She was a prom queen and, after a recent performance of the musical Fela!, she spontaneously hugged the dancers, nearly tackling them in excitement.

But Brittany, 21, who is disabled and suffers from seizures, incontinence, hearing loss, and other problems, spends most of her days alone in her North Philadelphia home, while her mother, Harlena Morton, goes to work as a high-school counselor.

Morton had hoped to find Brittany a job in a workshop that employs disabled adults. Now that Gov. Corbett has proposed large cuts to social services programs, Morton fears that Brittany and thousands like her will never get off waiting lists for those spots and for other services...

In Philadelphia, the cuts total about $120 million, not including reductions in medical care, city officials say; across Pennsylvania, $317 million, according to state officials.

The Governor's 2012-13 budget proposes to completely eliminate the General Assistance Program, which provides a time-limited, modest $205 per month benefit to people who are sick or disabled, completing addiction recovery programs or children who would otherwise be in foster care. Again, from the Inquirer:

Michael Froehlich, a lawyer for Community Legal Services, who opposes eliminating general assistance, says the programs are a lifeline for many people, including about 800 children being taken care of by people who are not family members. Many of the caretakers are "Good Samaritans," and without them, the children likely would be in foster care, which is significantly more expensive, Froehlich said.

"General assistance is an efficient, relatively speaking, way to take care of Pennsylvania's most vulnerable citizens," he said.

Philadelphia City Paper delves even deeper into the likely fallout from eliminating General Assistance. The long and short of it is that fewer people living on the edge will get the help they need to get back on their feet. And that could produce some public safety concerns.

For an estimated 1,000 to 4,500 recovering addicts in the city on any given day, the only option for getting clean in Philadelphia is checking into one of more than 300 informal recovery houses scattered across Kensington, Frankford and North Philly. It's a fragile network, administered mostly by former addicts and funded largely through residents' welfare dollars, in particular the nine-month, one-time General Assistance (GA) payments offered by the Commonwealth.

In Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, GA is eliminated altogether. Advocates say the impact could be devastating, affecting 34,843 Philadelphians who receive GA money (including people with disabilities and survivors of domestic violence) and pushing thousands of addicts out onto the street.

"If you cut all this, the bottom line is that the streets are going to overflow with people," says Anthony Grasso, co-owner of the Next Step recovery house in Frankford. "Do you know how many people are going to commit more crimes to get what they need?"

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