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Lutheran Day at the Capitol - 2010
Advocating for the interests of Low-Income People in the 2009-2010 Budget
The General Assembly must make tough budget decisions each year. However, today these decisions are even more difficult given the Commonwealth's unprecedented deficit of nearly $3 billion. During these difficult economic times we cannot ignore the fact that millions of Pennsylvanians are also facing their own personal budget decisions.
We ask that the General Assembly keep low-income families in mind as they begin their work on the state budget. Below are four areas we believe are particularly important for people living in our on the verge of poverty. You may choose one or more of these topics to be the focus of your Lutheran Day advocacy.
You do not need to be an expert - you simply need to share your concern for your fellow Pennsylvanians.
HUNGER: There are 1.4 million Pennsylvanians who do not have reliable access to adequate food. There are 423,000 Pennsylvanians who are hungry. These numbers have increased dramatically since last year.
What you can ask the General Assembly to do: Ask your representative and senator to support increased funding for Pennsylvania's hunger safety net comprised of six key food and nutrition programs.
The most familiar of these six programs (and the largest in terms of dollars spent) is the State Food Purchase Program, but all six programs together are necessary to effectively combat hunger.
- State Food Purchase Program - Churches, community and civic groups, and other non-profits distribute food purchased with these funds in all 67 of Pennsylvania's counties. Residents of households whose income is at or below 150% of the federal poverty level are eligible for the benefits. This program helps meet critical transportation and infrastructure needs and covers charges associated with accessing federal bonus commodities through TEFAP (the Emergency Food Assistance Program).
- Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) - Encourages the consumption of PA agricultural commodities by expanding farmers' markets, roadside stands, and community support agriculture programs. There are 902 FMNP participating farmers at 794 farm stands and 182 farmers' markets in PA. Low-income seniors, who have fixed household incomes of not more than 185% of the federal poverty level, are the targeted recipients of FMNP benefits.
- Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System - A new partnership of the Department of Agriculture, PA Association of Regional Food Banks, and PA farmers. Benefits to the farmers include avoiding high costs of landfill disposal, and reducing overhead cost. Food banks would have access to more fresh nutritious PA-grown produce to help our neighbors in need.
- Healthy Farms and Healthy Schools - A nutrition initiative established to educate kindergartners and their families about the importance of choosing healthy, locally produced foods while increasing awareness of Pennsylvania agriculture.
- The Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) - An incentive program that provides tax credits to corporations that make contributions to NAP approved programs. The PA Charitable Food Network receives millions of dollars from food donated through NAP each year.
- RX for PA School Food Services - Research shows that children perform better in school and reduce their risk for obesity and related illnesses if they have healthy diets. The program provides incentives to school districts that adopt state standards for the food served in school cafeterias and vending machines.
HEALTH CARE: At any point in time, nearly a million Pennsylvanians are uninsured. Over the last two years, close to 2 million have been uninsured for at least a six month period. By the end of June there will be 250,000 Pennsylvanians on the waiting list for the state supported adultBasic health insurance. This time last year the waiting list was around 83,000. Something can and should be done!
What you can ask the General Assembly to do: Ask your representative and senator to support efforts to expand the adultBasic program so that as many people as possible can be moved off of the waiting list and have reliable access to the care they need.
In the House, Majority Leader Todd Eachus is championing Adult Basic expansion. In the Senate, the health care champion is Ted Erickson. Both of these leaders (a Democrat and a Republican) are very concerned about access to health care and the adultBasic waiting list! Encourage your legislators to support their efforts.
EDUCATION: Pennsylvania school districts have historically been funded through a combination of state dollars and revenue from local property taxes. The result is vast inequality, with each district dependent upon local wealth in order to ensure that students receive a high quality education. In 2008, the General Assembly took the historic step of adopting a funding formula for public education that assured equality and adequacy. However, the funding levels needed to keep the formula on track must be appropriated each year and are currently in jeopardy!
What you can ask the General Assembly to do - Ask your representative and senator not to cut state dollars for Basic Education. Urge them to appropriate an increase of $418 million. This increase would come from federal stimulus money already specifically allocated for education and would be distributed through the Basic Education formula adopted last year.
HOUSING: The need for affordable housing goes far beyond simply finding shelter for people who are "homeless." It is an issue that affects every country, whether urban or rural, when rising costs force families to choose between paying their rent or monthly mortgage and going without food or medications. Forty states have housing trust funds that help ensure communities have diverse housing options to meet the needs of people with limited income, including the elderly and the disabled.
What you can ask the General Assembly to do - Ask your representative or senator to support the establishment of a State Housing Trust Fund. In the House this is House Bill 60, the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Act (PHARE).
Additionally, ask your representative and senator to increase the funding for HEMAP (Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program) to $20 million to provide unemployed people a better chance of keeping their homes.
Issue briefs are always available on the LAMPa website