Funding snag imperils youth programs
By Michael Currie Schaffer, Phili Inquirer Staff Writer
Philadelphia could be forced to eliminate at least $50 million in spending on youth programs because of a change in state funding patterns, city officials said yesterday.
Most of the imperiled programs are part of the city Department of Human Services' Division of Community-Based Prevention Services. They include after-school initiatives, truancy programs, and some programs of the nonprofit Philadelphia Safe and Sound.
"This really could be devastating," said Cheryl Ransom-Garner, commissioner of the Department of Human Services.
The change in funding is a result of a spike in state welfare rolls and tight limits on federal welfare funds, she said.
In the past, the programs were paid for with federal money that had been saved as a result of reduced welfare caseloads. Because that money was unavailable, Gov. Rendell shifted the funding source to state child-welfare funds.
But there is one big difference between federal welfare money and the state funds: Local communities are required to match 20 percent of what they get under the state program, known as Act 148.
State officials had told counties that they would provide some new funding to cover the transition. But Ransom-Garner said officials learned only recently that they would not be able to use those funds to pay the 20 percent match.
In Philadelphia's case, she said, it meant the city would have to come up with $10.5 million to access more than $50 million from the state for fiscal 2006.
The money was not included in a tightly balanced budget passed by City Council on June 2, said city Budget Director Dianne Reed.
Reed said that she learned about the funding problem only last week and that officials would meet to chart strategy. "There was some kind of a communications issue between our people and the state," she said.
Susan Hooper, a spokeswoman for the state budget office, said state officials had told Philadelphia officials that "they would have to pay a portion of that increase."
Little money remains in the city budget to pay the matching amount. Though the $3.5 billion budget for fiscal 2006 features a large enough surplus to pay, the money would not be available in later years of the city's spending plan. Under the law, a state board must certify that the city's spending plans project five years of balanced budgets.
The uncertainty about funding is particularly troubling because the money was supposed to pay for contracts that would start July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, said Jo Ann Lawer, president of Philadelphia Safe and Sound.
"Without this money, we can only help kids after something bad happens to them," Lawer said. "It's a worry."
Contact staff writer Michael Currie Schaffer at 215-854-4565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 'safe and sound' program now sounds to be 'fleeting and but a memory.'
One of my overall attitudes is: "Pull Your Own Weight." I published a book or two with that title in the past. Programs need to be funded. However, viable programs need to be created and sustained. This also goes to the 'band-aid attitude.'