By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA – As the Pennsylvania budget impasse has significantly impacted Catholic schools and Catholic social service programs across the Archdiocese, Church officials have communicated their concerns to legislators of the commonwealth.
This week diocesan officials were awaiting details of a budget agreement reached by legislators and Gov. Ed Rendell Friday night, Sept. 18, which still requires the governor’s signature.
Because the Department of Human Services of Philadelphia owes the Philadelphia Archdiocese more than $12 million for residential and community-based services for adjudicated, delinquent and dependent youth, CSS has been tapping its internal resources to meet payroll requirements and to keep current on bills, said James Amato, deputy secretary for Catholic Social Services.
“We’re borrowing money from our fund balances and paying them back with interest,” he added. “That interest is not a cost we can pass onto government. That’s a cost that we’re paying because they can’t pass a budget.”
Although CSS received a sum of $2.8 million from DHS two weeks ago, a substantial back billing and funding problem remains.
In addition, CSS is relying on its own resources to reimburse foster parents.
Meanwhile, textbooks, workbooks and other educational resources funded by the state each year for use in nonpublic and private schools across the Archdiocese are in storage in warehouses, where they will remain until a state budget is passed.
Thomas J. Smith, deputy secretary for Catholic Education, said that based on his conversations with lobbyists in Harrisburg, namely the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, once the line items of the budget are determined the schools could receive the textbooks, workbooks and other resources within seven to 10 days.
Mary Rochford, the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese, insists the crisis has not hindered teachers’ ability to provide students with a quality, Catholic education.
The impact of the impasse has been felt most acutely in the absence of updated textbooks and workbooks for use in mathematics, science and other core curriculum classes, she said of the materials provided through Act 90/195 programs established by the state Department of Education.
Although the Catholic schools ordered the books and materials last spring, the state will not release the orders for distribution until the budget is passed, Rochford informed parents and guardians in a letter dated Sept. 17.
Teachers are employing creative methods to incorporate the most current resources available for class work, preparing materials and downloading online resources made available by the publishers of the textbooks, according to the superintendent of schools.
“During this difficult time, please know that I am extremely appreciative of your patience and understanding,” Rochford said in her letter to parents and guardians. “The Archdiocese continues to speak to our legislators to ensure that our families and students receive equity in funding, especially where it involves resources for their classrooms.”
Pennsylvania has been operating without a state budget since the new fiscal year began July 1. It is the only state without a budget.
In addition to funds from DHS, CSS continues to wait for funds from the city’s Office for Supportive Housing earmarked for the Archdiocese’s homeless programs, as well as funds from the Public Health Management Corporation in Philadelphia for the archdiocesan-operated Out of School Time programs. These provide after-school youth development and family support activities.
But there is some good not all of the funds have been frozen by the budget stalemate. Government monies allocated for CSS’ Mental Retardation spanision through the state office for medical assistance funding continue to arrive, as does government revenue reserved for a number of Medicaid-funded residential beds in CSS’ Youth Services spanision, namely for St. Gabriel Hall in Audubon and St. Francis-St. Joseph Homes for Children in Bensalem.
CSS has not been sitting on the sidelines. Instead, it has been working with leaders of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and representatives of the Pennsylvania Council for Children, Youth and Family Services, a local provider agency.
In August, Amato provided testimony to two state representatives regarding the stress the impasse is inflicting upon the private provider system.
“It’s done significant damage,” Amato said of the impasse. That said, the Archdiocese has not established a deadline by which it must receive funds to avoid the suspension of services.
For those providers who have established such a deadline, DHS has provided a mechanism for emergency reimbursement to ensure that the placement of children is not disrupted. “We have not needed to ask for that yet,” Amato said.
CSS is not being reimbursed for the youngsters it is currently paying to enroll in the day care program at Casa del Carmen Academy in North Philadelphia. Meanwhile, cutbacks have slowed eligibility processing for parents who seek subsidized day care for their children, he said.
As a result, enrollment is inconsistent at Casa del Carmen, said Griselle Newman, the academy director. Because of the budget impasse, those who are receiving funds from Child Care Information Services (CCIS) “are walking on a thin line,” she added.
Of the 37 children enrolled in Casa’s day care, 28 receive funds from CCIS. The parents of the nine children who do not qualify for CCIS pay for the care out of their own pocket.
Casa’s academy for youths aged 3 to 5 years old, is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday 51 weeks of the year.
Amato said CSS is blessed with generous benefactors, as well as the ability to borrow from endowment funds and fund balances to keep operations running.
At the same time, he implores the governor and state legislatures to get the budget passed.
“There is only so much longer that the safety net of social services for those most vulnerable can continue,” Amato said.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215- 587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.