We Need Positive and Visionary Leadership
On March 20, Project HOME's Executive Director Sister Mary Scullion was invited to present testimony to Philadelphia City Council's Committee on Public Health and Human Services about the possible impact on the City of Philadelphia of Governor Corbett's proposed state budget. Here is the statement she presented.
Good Morning, Committee on Public Health and Human Services, and thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. Thank you especially to your Chair, Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco, and Vice Chair, Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, for convening this hearing on the issue of how the state budget will impact Philadelphia and, most critically, how it undermines our ability to protect seniors, children, and people with disabilities, and to spend resources wisely for the long term.
Governor Corbett’s proposed 2012-13 state budget, with its combination of massive cuts to life-saving services and major tax breaks for corporations, will not only diminish our ability to address today’s needs, it will increase poverty and cause us to spend more in the future. It will have a devastating impact across the state and in Philadelphia.
- A $41 million dollar cut to health and opportunity programs will result in increased homelessness, hospitalizations, institutionalization, and incarceration.
- These cuts compound the pain of the elimination of the General Assistance (GA) program, which will leave people in our community with no source of income at all (and possibly no source of medical coverage). GA provides a maximum of $205 per month (25 percent of the poverty level) to more than 68,000 Pennsylvanians. Recipients of this program are disabled adults, survivors of domestic violence, people caring for a sick or disabled person, those temporarily in drug and alcohol recovery, and children in the care of a non-relative. More than 35,000 of those recipients live in Philadelphia.
The proposed cuts not only hurt our most vulnerable citizens, they also undercut future economic growth by failing to invest in critical areas like education and health care. They will create long-term higher costs for localities across the state.
These cuts have been proposed despite the fact that research has now amply demonstrated that strategic public-private investments in concrete, long-term solutions to homelessness and poverty generate significant long-term savings in tax dollars. Recent studies undertaken by the econometrics firm Econsult and by the University of Pennsylvania have shown that solutions to homelessness have positive economic benefits for the City. For instance, the 2009 study “Saving Lives, Saving Money,” (based on research by Penn’s Professor Dennis Culhane) showed that investment in effective solutions like permanent supportive housing for those who are chronically homelessness results in significant savings in public money and tax dollars.
The proposed 20 percent reduction in the state’s Human Services Development Fund will result in a reduction of homeless street outreach, case management, and housing opportunities. This reduction in services, benefits, and housing options only take us further from the Mayor’s goal to end chronic homelessness in our city – and they cost us more taxpayer dollars in the long run.
Of course, we know that creating affordable housing opportunities is the most effective solution to homelessness. It not only provides permanent homes for people leaving the shelter and streets, but also has a strong local fiscal impact on our community.
A new study by Econsult shows that Project HOME (as just one example of the many housing providers contributing to the city’s and region’s economy) has had a significant economic impact on the region as a whole. Since 1990, through our capital spending alone, Project HOME has generated an overall economic impact of $155 million, which translates into 1,860 jobs and $69 million in taxable wages. On an annual basis, our operating expenditures generate an impact of $31 million, 417 jobs, and $14 million in taxable wages. Meanwhile, an updated assessment shows continued positive correlation of Project HOME sites with neighboring property values – even in a down economy.
In other words, while living out our mission of developing solutions to homelessness and poverty, we have also been making a significant positive contribution to the local economy. Governor Corbett’s proposed budget threatens that progress.
We are encouraged that despite the severe economic downturn, we see signs that our City is continuing to make progress in the battle against homelessness. Last year, Project HOME and Bethesda Project opened Connelly House in Center City (with much support, it should be noted, from the nearby business community, public officials, and the community as a whole), providing 79 units of housing for men and women who were once on the streets. Just last month, Project HOME opened the James Widener Ray Homes. The new residence, located in the Tioga neighborhood, is the result of a public/private partnership and will provide 53 units of permanent, supportive housing to formerly homeless men, women, and families. A coalition of groups, including City government, participated in the national 100,000 Homes Campaign, with the goal of developing appropriate housing for many of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable long-term homeless persons over the next three years.
This work cannot continue without political will on the city, state, and federal levels. At the recent Grand Opening for the James Widener Ray Homes, Mayor Nutter reiterated his commitment to making Philadelphia the first major city to end homelessness. That’s the kind of positive and visionary leadership we need, and we are hopeful that City Council, including our many new members, will demonstrate similar leadership on these critical issues. Tragically, our leadership in Harrisburg does not view ending homelessness in the same way, and the devastating cuts in the proposed budget threaten to undermine the progress we in Philadelphia are committed to making.
I, along with the community of Project HOME, and many of our partners in the nonprofit sector, look forward to working closely with you in the coming months to stop these cuts and continue the real progress we have made towards ending homelessness in our city and making Philadelphia a just and compassionate city for all its citizens.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today.