With a surplus and federal money on the books in Harrisburg, various groups are campaigning for a bigger slice of the pie.
According to the Democratic House Appropriations Committee, the Commonwealth recorded a $4.8 billion revenue surplus by the end of May. It also includes $2.9 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund and $2.1 billion in unspent federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Although Republicans warn that this money may be needed to plug short-term budget deficits amid the current economic downturn, several groups are now pushing for new government investment.
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According to the non-profit organization PennFuture, a third of all waterways in the Commonwealth are polluted. This group and a grand coalition of two dozen other like-minded organizations are calling for additional funding to clean up waterways.
“Pennsylvania faces a unique opportunity to invest in our rivers and streams,” PennFuture campaign manager Renee Reber said in a press release after a rally in Harrisburg earlier this month. “The importance of this generational funding and its impact on clean water throughout Pennsylvania cannot be overstated. We urge the Harrisburg legislature to immediately support clean water funding.”
Organizations calling for an infusion of conservation funds include: PennFuture, the Choose Clean Water Coalition, the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, WeConservePA, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, Audubon Mid-Atlantic, Chesapeake Conservancy, Lackawanna River Conservation Association, Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, Appalachian Mountain Club, Pennsylvania Council of Churches, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Sierra Club Pennsylvania, Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust, National Parks Conservation Association and Waterkeepers Chesapeake.
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“We are at an historic tipping point in Pennsylvania where we can choose to support vibrant parks, hiking trails, clean waterways, healthy outdoor recreation opportunities and more on our public lands,” said Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the Department of Conservation of the Commonwealth and Natural Resources. “These are places where citizens can come together and relax, unwind and recharge. Where local and state economies benefit from supported local jobs and quality of life improvements.
“What better way to come together bipartisanally to help restore our society and economy than investing in a clean, healthy environment, green spaces, parks and trails. It is critical that we invest in our natural spaces and position Penn’s Woods for the brightest future.”
health at home
Others are calling for an investment from legislators to ensure continuity of home health care.
Members of the Pennsylvania Homecare Association say the General Assembly has the authority to issue money that increases the wage rate for those employed to provide in-home programs for the elderly and disabled. They find that 88% of Americans prefer home care to all other options.
“Allow home care providers to raise wages for home care workers because they are so low they can’t compete in the market,” said Teri Henning, CEO of the Pennsylvania Homecare Association. “We think it is absolutely crucial to enable these employees to enter the competition in the first place.”
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According to Henning, the average hourly wage for a home care worker, excluding benefits and transportation, is about $13 an hour. She said many caregivers are migrating to higher-paying fields with less demanding work, leaving many seniors without an option for in-home services.
Henning added that providing home services instead of nursing homes costs the community about half as much.
“It’s a staffing crisis,” she said. “And it has to start with wages.”
Citing labor shortages, low salaries, little to no municipal funding in some areas, and longer wait times, the EMS Fellowship is also asking for more support.
“EMS is (the) only healthcare provider legally required to respond promptly to a service request,” said Tony Deaven, board member of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute, in a recent press release. “What happens when EMS can no longer respond?”
These services recently received $25 million from Act 10 of 2022, according to the Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania. But EMS advocates say COVID has created a crisis that will require additional attention from lawmakers.
A recent rally in Harrisburg had bipartisan support from State Senator Katie Muth on the Democratic side and State Senator Pat Stefano and State Representative Martin Causer on the Republican side.
“We’ve reached critical mass,” Barry Albertson, past president of the Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania, said in the press release, “and our system is failing.”
Nursing homes are another industry fighting for better wages amid labor shortages.
The Pennsylvania Health Care Association has requested a $294 million increase in the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rate. This organization says the funds are needed for employee wages, recruiting workers and operating costs.
“We cannot emphasize enough how alarming the financial situation has become for long-term care in Pennsylvania,” said Zach Shamberg, the association’s president and CEO, in a recent press release.
According to the association, Pennsylvania has seen a net loss of 10 nursing homes — including one specialized ventilator — since the COVID-19 pandemic began. About 60% of the remaining care homes in the Commonwealth have been classified as financially vulnerable in an independent study by CliftonLarsenAllen, a national accounting firm.
“Years of underfunding for tens of thousands of seniors who depend on Medicaid has led to this crisis,” Shamberg Sorge said in this year’s state budget.
Elizabeth Rementer, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, said negotiations are “active and ongoing” as the June 30 deadline nears.
Bruce Siwy is a reporter for the USA Today Network’s Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BruceSiwy.