With $ 10,000,000,000 to spend, advocates lobby lawmakers in Wolf, Pa. To put the poor first
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HARRISBURG – As Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-led legislature enter the final month of budget negotiations, a coalition of groups serving the under-represented marched to the Capitol steps to demand that lawmakers prioritize working-class and low-income families.
Under the banner of the Poor People’s Campaign, more than 50 protesters presented their vision for a “just and moral budget for Pennsylvania”. Among their demands: reinstating programs for the poorest Pennsylvanians, including a cash allowance for adults called General Assistance, expanding the state’s affordable housing trust fund, and hiring additional unemployment staff to manage overwriting requests.
“What we’re saying is that the budget should reflect the needs of the over five million people in Pennsylvania who are poor or near poor,” said Nijmie Dzurinko, co-chair of the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign. “It’s not about left or right. It is about good and bad.
In theory, budget negotiations should be less complex this year. Despite fears of lingering financial distress from the pandemic, the state is forecasting $ 3 billion in tax revenue over what it originally forecast. And Pennsylvania can bank on an additional $ 7.3 billion in federal dollars from the coronavirus bailout signed earlier this year by President Joe Biden.
But figuring out how to spend that stimulus money, and where to prioritize sending excess dollars, has the potential to turn into a nasty political struggle and extend negotiations beyond the June 30 deadline.
Gov. Tom Wolf is ending the last two years of his second term – a lame duck status that would make it difficult for any governor to push through policies. Wolf, however, has had a checkered history with Republicans who control both legislative chambers, including major disagreements over the past year over his handling of the pandemic. And 2022 will mark the start of a controversial battle between Democrats and Republicans over who will succeed Wolf, a political reality that could force more partisan tones and demagoguery into this year’s negotiations.
The Democratic governor appears to be easing his efforts to restructure the state’s personal income tax, a key part of his budget proposal this year that has raised the ire of the GOP. But he is not backing down from his plan to inject an additional $ 1 billion into public education, which Republicans did not approve of.
Since the first cases of the coronavirus were diagnosed in Pennsylvania last year, approximately six million jobless claims have been filed in the state. At the same time, advocates believe thousands of households are vulnerable to eviction as nearly a million customers were behind on their utility bills in January.
Democrats in the State House and Senate want to use the moment – and more than $ 7 billion in federal aid – to make big investments in poverty reduction. This includes spending $ 250 million to establish a paid sick and family leave program, $ 300 million to improve the state’s child care system, and increase the minimum wage for home health workers.
Jason Gottesman, spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Center), said the caucus plan for federal dollars will be reflected in the budget.
“Currently, we are reviewing the federal government’s guidelines on how the money can be spent, taking into account the years of the Wolf administration deficit that need to be addressed in this budget, and ensuring that we are accountable to taxpayers. by not raising taxes [in] any potential budget plan that we have developed, ”he said via email.
A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) did not respond to the request for comment.
Members of the campaign of the poor, like State Democrats, see the time for big structural changes – not small ones.
“During the pandemic, the inequality in the distribution of wealth became even more visible, and we saw endless lines of poor people looking for a pantry to feed themselves,” said Movement member Madelyn Arias. immigrant leaders in Pennsylvania. on the steps of the Capitol through a translator.
Spotlight PA’s Angela Couloumbis and Sarah Anne Hughes contributed to this story.
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