Budget Sees Increases for Hunger, Education
Two of LAMPa’s priorities – hunger and education – receive increases in the state budget package that became final this week with the signing of a revenue bill that, at least on paper, seems to balance the spending bill that took effect July 1.
The spending plan includes a 4.1 percent increase in the line item that supports the commonwealth’s most critical anti-hunger programs – one of the most significant funding increases in years in our fight against hunger in Pennsylvania.
An additional $200 million is slated for basic education funding. Together with the new funding formula signed last month, this represents a step in the right direction toward closing the state’s estimated $3 billion adequacy gap that has earned the commonwealth a dead-last national ranking for fairness in how we fund our schools.
“Lutherans and our many allies in the battle against hunger and poverty made their voices heard, especially in the last weeks of the budget season,” said LAMPa director Tracey DePasquale. “I was heartened to read the letters you signed at synod assemblies and emails you sent to lawmakers. There was truly an outpouring of encouragement to remember the vulnerable in our communities and to act in hope with investment in our children’s futures. We are grateful to Gov. Wolf and the lawmakers who listened.”
Under the approved budget, the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP) line item will increase from $18.438 million to $19.188 million. SFPP remains one of the commonwealth’s most important tools in the fight against hunger and a lifeline for food banks across Pennsylvania. Many of our Lutheran food pantries rely on this program to supplement their ministries. The program provides cash grants to counties for the purchase and distribution of food to low-income individuals, including seniors. For years, the program has suffered from stagnant funding even as need rose dramatically.
The SFPP line item is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and supports programs such as the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). PASS was created by Act 113 of 2010, but the program had never been funded beyond the pilot phase, until last year. This budget would allocate up to $1 million in continued funding for PASS.
The increase of $200 million for basic education in the budget is a crucial investment in our public schools. We appreciate the work of the Governor and the General Assembly to secure this funding increase and for their work to adopt a fair funding formula last month.
The work to improve educational opportunities for Pennsylvania students is far from done. This year’s increase does not reach the level we believe is needed, and Pennsylvania’s share in funding schools will remain one of the lowest in the country. To truly fund our schools fairly and adequately, the state should increase its investment through the new fair funding formula by $3 billion over the next six to eight years.
We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor and the General Assembly to achieve further educational investments in future years to support Pennsylvania’s students and close the state’s achievement gaps. Learn more about the shape of our schools, and the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, of which LAMPa is a founding member.
These items are part of a $31.5 billion spending plan that also includes monies for addressing Pennsylvania’s opiod epidemic. Wolf allowed the spending plan to become law without his signature earlier in the week, saying he expected the Legislature to be close to delivering a revenue bill to pay for it. They did so, and the governor signed the revenue deal on Wednesday. Read coverage. Analysts question whether revenues will be as high as projected, or whether the governor will be forced to make cuts mid-year. Credit-rating agencies had placed Pennsylvania on a watch list for a possible downgrade before the $1.3 billion revenue-gap agreement was reached. Read highlights of plan for increasing revenues in the upcoming year. Lawmakers still have to finish crafting the gambling expansion bill they are counting on to raise about $100 million. They are in recess until late September.