Among the items on his chopping block is the General Assistance program, established in 1937, during the Great Depression. GA provides a maximum of $205 per month (less than 25 percent of the amount that defines poverty) to more than 68,000 Pennsylvanians. Recipients of this program are disabled adults, domestic-violence survivors, people caring for a sick or disabled person, those in drug and alcohol recovery, and children in the care of nonrelatives. More than 35,000 of those recipients live in Philadelphia.
Let's look first at the compassion quotient. That $205 may seem like little more than a restaurant meal for two or two football tickets for many of our elected officials in Harrisburg (and for many of the corporate leaders who stand to benefit from the hefty corporate-tax cuts in the same budget). But for those receiving GA, the most vulnerable people in our commonwealth, it is a meager lifeline - to keep a battered woman from returning to her abuser; to maintain a recovering addict in critically needed treatment so he can eventually return to the workforce; to prevent thousands of Pennsylvanians from falling into homelessness. The governor also plans to terminate tens of thousands of the very poorest people from Medicaid health insurance, which they rely on for their very lives.
And good luck if in their struggle to survive, the victims of the governor's cruel measure turn to churches, soup kitchens, shelters, or food pantries. Across the state, these charities are already overloaded and unable to meet the increasing need in the recession.
Needless to say, the human costs of this budget are profoundly troubling. But the governor and his Harrisburg allies are also failing the other commitment of his administration: fiscal responsibility. Though budget cuts to human services (which affect populations that have little political clout) seem like easy short-term savings, the reality is these GA cuts will cost the commonwealth more money than they save, because of more homelessness and increases in health crises, domestic abuse, crime, and community instability.
Meanwhile, concrete experience and analysis show that public-private investments in real long-term solutions to homelessness and poverty generate significant long-term tax savings. In Philadelphia, for instance, a recent economic analysis demonstrated how permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness costs far less in public money than the typical endless cycle of shelters, emergency rooms, detox treatment, hospitalization, jail.
Similarly, a recent study by the nonprofit Reinvestment Fund shows that the state's Homeowners' Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP) - which provides loans to help Pennsylvanians at risk of losing their homes - prevented thousands of foreclosures, saving the commonwealth as much as $480 million between 2008 and 2010.
When we invest in the services that empower people to achieve self-sufficiency - health care, education, employment - we save tax money in the long run and nurture productive and contributing citizens.
"We need a government," the newly inaugurated Corbett said a year ago, "that must yield [our citizens] a hopeful, realistic return." The governor's budget, however, returns not hope but deepened misery. It is unconscionable for Corbett to increase economic hardship for our poorest citizens, who already struggle to survive. But it is also unwise and economically irresponsible to eliminate programs such as General Assistance and to end Medicaid for many - because we are only shifting the costs elsewhere.
We can't be trapped in a misleading and simplistic model that assumes attacking deficits through major human-services cuts is the only way toward economic prosperity. Lawmakers must take a balanced approach to the budget that includes greater corporate accountability and new revenue. We need a new vision of government investment in human capital, which can both stave off poverty and generate greater economic growth. We have seen that such investment can work - and we know that for all Pennsylvanians it is the surest way to hope.
The Rev. Robin Hynicka is pastor of the Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia.