Carbon County Times News: Carbon Agencies Feel Budget Pinch

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rachel Smith goes through the routine of preparing her classroom for students, even though they will be arriving a couple weeks later this year, thanks to the state budget impasse.

The Head Start teacher, based in Lehighton, came in on what was supposed to have been her first day of work to prepare her room and clean a fish tank.

But with the organization’s funding held up until a budget is passed, the nonprofit that runs the program has decided to push back the first day of school by two weeks from Aug. 31 to Sept. 14.

“Regardless of whether or not we’re starting, I’m here,” she said.

Head Start relies on state grants to fund its teaching positions.

Without a budget deal, no money has come out of Harrisburg since late June.

“I just want to get these kids back in here,” said Beth Ann Sheckler, who directs the Lehighton program. “At least when they were here, we knew they were happy, safe and full.”

Pathstone Carbon County Head Start is just one of several local agencies who are having to do without state funding while Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-led Legislature go back and forth on a 2015-16 budget.

Some of those providers shared their stories at a meeting Monday hosted by state Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon.

Vulnerable people

Many nonprofits have been forced to delay or modify programs. The organizations that are affected, in many cases, are the ones that help protect some of the state’s most vulnerable residents. While many residents feel no effect from the budget impasse, families with children enrolled in Head Start, the elderly, and those seeking treatment for addiction have noticed.

The United Way surveyed 312 organizations statewide and found that a quarter of them expect to curtail some of their services in August.

Instead of cutting or delaying their programs, some organizations, like the Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug & Alcohol Commission, are relying on credit.

Executive director Rick Mroczka said with the agency’s current line of credit, the program in Lehighton can continue to operate through October.

In the other two counties the agency serves, it is unable to pay care providers until the budget is passed.

The agency was also hoping to take advantage of new funding for new drug treatment programs with the 2015-16 budget, but now those programs are in limbo.

“There is a whole realm of effect that this budget is having on us,” Mroczka said.

A critical time

The gap in funding for drug treatment comes at a critical time, according to the commission’s treatment program manager Jamie Drake.

“With the immense heroin problem in the three-county area, we are getting bombarded. Our facility is at capacity,” she said.

Providers are worried without these programs in place, an unintended consequence could be social issues that the government will eventually have to pay for.

Sallianne Schatz, of Carbon County Children and Youth, said her department has not felt any funding crunch yet. But after hearing from the other providers, she was concerned about the direct effect it could have on the cases she sees.

“If drug and alcohol treatment get pushed back, if there are no services for adults, we could have more children in placement.”

Read the full article here.