LAMPa finds much to applaud in Gov. Josh Shapiro’s $48.3 billion budget proposal unveiled yesterday, especially in priority areas of housing, health care, safe communities, household financial stability and education equity. Although nutrition programs would see some significant increases and innovations, hunger advocates fear they do not go far enough to meet the immediate need. Read the full address.
Among his anti-hunger proposals, the governor’s plan includes a $3 million increase for the Pennsylvania Agriculture Surplus System (PASS), continuation of universal school breakfast, the Hunger-Free Campus initiative and support for senior food box delivery, plus a proposal to raise the minimum benefit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for seniors and persons with disabilities to $35 from the current $23. The plan would also invest in IT upgrades and an administrative cost match to draw down nearly $120 million in federal dollars for ensuring that children in food-insecure households have access to nutrition throughout the summer when they don’t have access to school meals.
“LAMPa supports the governor’s investments in anti-hunger programs, but in light of food inflation reported as the highest in the country and the incredible increase in demand our ministries are witnessing, we fear they do not go far enough to ensure adequate nutrition for our most vulnerable neighbors,” said LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale. Although many of the governor’s proposals include investments in economic development and redress of neglect and inequity, of particular immediate concern is the flat funding of the State Food Purchase Program, which, along with PASS, supports the cost of food in many of our community and congregational pantries.
At the same time the governor was delivering his address in the Capitol, just blocks away, hunger advocates were cutting a ribbon at the new location of the Harrisburg Area Food Pantry. Once located at Messiah Lutheran Church, the pantry relocated to the Camp Curtain YMCA, partly to accommodate increasing numbers of hungry neighbors. The pantry has been feeding approximately 3,400 people a month – up 1,000 people a month over last year. Ministries around the Commonwealth report similar increases in need.
While employment and job growth are healthy, pantry volunteers said that they are serving people whose wages are not keeping up with the cost of food and housing.
To address that gap, Shapiro again called for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 2025. According to data from the Keystone Research Center, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would increase the wages of 1.34 million Pennsylvanians. More than 21 percent of Pennsylvanians would see their wages go up, leading to a projected $5 billion in consumer spending. According to the Center, the majority of the people who would see their wages go up are women and full-time workers — and more than a quarter minimum-wage workers have a child. About 21 percent live in cities, and 25 percent live in rural areas, according to the report. Advocating for wages that lead to “sufficient and sustainable” livelihoods is central to the ELCA social statement on Economic Life.
The governor continued his support for two bipartisan proposals to address housing needs – an additional $50 million for the Whole Home Repairs program and lifting the cap on the Pa. Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE) Fund to $100 million by fiscal year 2027-28. Rev. Erin Jones, LAMPa’s Communications and Advocacy Engagement Manager, responded to this priority saying, “both these programs have proven records of success and are examples of the kind of impact and care we can show our neighbors with bipartisan support and investment; we’re glad Lutherans have been loud voices calling for their continued funding.” Other proposed investments in housing include $10 million for the Homeless Assistance Program, $5 million for legal representation in eviction proceedings, and $5 million for local governments for rapid response to emergency housing situations.
In other anti-poverty measures, the governor called for an investment of $4 million that could eliminate $400 million in medical debt for families across Pennsylvania and an additional $50 million investment to lower premiums for health insurance purchased through Pennie. Addressing a shortage of home health care workers, Shapiro’s proposal would also increase funds for home and community services for the intellectually disabled and autistic by about $200 million.
Also related to health care, Shapiro vowed to tackle hospital closures across the Commonwealth, address high prescription drug prices and to “double down” on efforts to reduce maternal mortality – especially among Black mothers. The governor’s plan includes a $2.6 million dollar investment in prenatal care and maternal health education, designed to address racial disparities in maternal morbidity. LAMPa applauds this investment as in line with the ELCA’s commitment to understanding the intersectionality of health care, as outlined in the social statement on Faith, Sexism, and Justice.
In addition to naming health care costs as drivers of hunger in their communities, our hunger ministries have pointed to affordable transportation as a growing factor in both access to jobs and in serving vulnerable neighbors. The governor called for adding 1.75 percent of sales tax revenue to the Public Transportation Trust Fund to provide $283 million for operating subsidies for transportation agencies across the state.
In basic education, where Pennsylvania is under court order to fairly fund its schools, Shapiro’s proposal closely follows the plan forwarded by the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC).
It calls for more than $1 billion in new basic education funding to our five hundred school districts divided into three buckets:
- $736,000,000 is targeted to school districts that are inadequately funded by the state’s own criteria and as established by the BEFC.
- $136,000,000 is targeted to school districts that have higher-than-average property taxes because they have had to rely on local funds to make up for inadequate state aid.
- $200 million will be distributed through the Fair Funding Formula to all five hundred school districts to ensure that state support keeps up with the inflation in education costs.
Beyond basic education, Shapiro’s budget tackles the state’s lagging support for higher education, targeting an extra $200 million for the state’s higher education institutions.
Related to LAMPa safe communities priorities, the governor’s budget would combat gun violence with a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention, more frequent State Police inspections of gun dealers and investments in community-centered solutions. “There are many avenues to address gun violence in the Commonwealth; an investment in a centralized office for research and best practices is a good start,” Jones said. “We anticipate working with that office and the Assembly to enact meaningful legislation, such as universal background checks, to ensure the safety of all.”
Among other LAMPa-supported measures to protect and support vulnerable neighbors, Shapiro called for passage of the Fairness Act, an additional $10 million to fund public defenders and availability of free feminine hygiene products in schools – something our ministries have reported as a significant need among families they serve that results in girls missing school.
“We look forward to working with Gov. Shapiro and the General Assembly to advance shared priorities, including expansion of many effective bipartisan programs for which Lutherans have long been advocates,” DePasquale said.
Although Shapiro proposed dipping into the state’s $14 billion surplus to pay for much of this proposal, he also proposed expanding regulation and taxation on skilled games. LAMPa opposes increases in revenue from gambling, building on denominational opposition since 1984, as outlined in the ELCA’s investment screen on gambling, stating that gambling, “tends to extract revenues from those least able to afford it…it diverts family and personal income…[and] it contributes to the brokenness of individuals and social systems.” Regressive forms of revenue are not in line with a vision for a just economy.
Advocates can add their voices on many of these measures by visiting our Action Center, calling on the General Assembly to include funding for housing policies, ending medical debt, and passing the Fairness Act.