Organization Leaders Tell Budget Makers 'Enough Is Enough'
Enough is enough. That was the message from Pittsburgh leaders gathered Friday in the Strip District rallying against the state budget stalemate.
Organizations that rely on state funding have spoken out during the five-month budget delay, bringing in citizens and experts alike to describe the damaging effects they've endured, from minimizing services and prompting layoffs to temporarily shutting down.
Leaders representing Pittsburgh’s educational, religious and nonprofit sectors lamented Friday that their stories haven’t been enough to grab the attention of politicians in Harrisburg.
Bishop David Zubik of the Pittsburgh diocese accused lawmakers of “grandstanding.”
“While this partisan political bickering has gone on month after month, … the ones who suffer most from this impasse are the usual victims,” he said, “the vulnerable and the voiceless, the poor and the hurting.”
Adrienne Walnoha, CEO of Community Human Services, which helps homeless and near-homeless people in the Pittsburgh region with housing, health care, food and other services, said CHS has had to dip into its financial reserves. That's bad economically for both her organization and the state, she said.
“We as an agency collect very comprehensive data about our programs," Walnoha said. "We know that they are successful, and we know that they save the commonwealth $8 million per year in crisis and emergency services.”
As CHS has grown the last two years, organizers reported an increase of 15 to 200 requests for help per day. That number rises every month the budget is further delayed, Walnoha said.
“More and more people are coming to our organization for help, and when they come, they’re telling us they’ve been to dozens of other organizations, asking, begging for support and have been turned away,” she said.
Thomas Johnson, Jr., head of school and co-founder of the East Liberty-based Neighborhood Academy, a college-preparatory school serving mostly low-income students, said his organization doesn’t just teach students, but also provides other essential services like childcare and meals that are at risk of being eliminated if a budget is not passed soon.
Speakers used humor to drive their point. Johnson said: “It’s amazing that a die-hard Steeler fan would quote Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots, but ‘Do your job.’ Do your job so that the young people that go home at night from the Neighborhood Academy will have had dinner.”
Participants said Friday they don't blame either party. They just want a budget passed, Zubik said.