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Pa. budget winners: Libraries, nursing homes, schools and state parks
Patriot-News - 7/8/2022
Pennsylvania is flush with cash and the 2022-2023 state budget reflects that.
The $45 billion budget signed by Gov. Tom Wolf Friday contains hundreds of millions in new funding for sectors of the commonwealth that often face the budget axe - or get less than what’s needed - when times are tough.
Here’s a closer look at where some of your tax dollars are going.
Funding boost for schools
Education is the biggest winner in the 2022-23 budget.
Public schools receive a historic $525 million increase in basic education, for a total of $7.6 billion; $100 million more for special education funding, for a total of $1.3 billion. In addition, the 100 most underfunded school districts get a combined extra $225 million.
Schools also receive $95 million for school safety and security grants to address physical safety and security at schools in response to the mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and $95 million in grants for student mental health services.
More earmarks for pre-kindergarten programs
Early learning advocates praised the budgeted $60 million for preK programs and $19 million for PA’s Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program.
Early Learning Pennsylvania, a coalition of advocates focused on supporting young Pennsylvanians from birth to age five, said: “Public investment in high-quality pre-k has become a consensus issue in Pennsylvania; aligning political parties, rural, urban and suburban communities, and families across the commonwealth on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that improves the life chances of Pennsylvania’s children.”
The coalition said the $79 million will allow for an additional 2,300 young learners as well as increase rates for providers to support the early care and education workforce and address rising costs.
Increases for library funding
Funding for the state’s public libraries increased by $11 million, for a total of $70.5 million.
It’s good news for the state’s 456 public libraries, which suffered budget cuts of as much as 30% or the equivalent of $20 million almost 15 years ago - a blow from which they are still recovering, said Christi Buker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association.
“I think for us the key is acknowledging that we are thrilled the legislature is adding additional funding to restore funding,” she said.
Buker noted libraries have been running on lean budgets in recent years and the pandemic validated the need for library services such as computers. The money will be funneled toward overall operations of libraries as well as enhancing collections, bolstering staff and making repairs and upgrades to libraries, many of which are housed in older buildings, she said.
Nursing home boost
The budget calls for increases of about $150 million for nursing homes.
The funds will provide half-year funding for costs related to increased staffing levels and about $250 million provided for long-term living programs through American Rescue Plan Act funding.
Gov. Wolf had asked the legislature to budget millions to raise a key reimbursement rate for skilled nursing homes to help offset costs associated with proposed new regulations that would increase daily required care.
Financial help is budgeted for homeowners who need help paying for repairs.
The Whole Home Repairs Program budgets up to $125 million for grants up to $50,000 for homeowners with household incomes not exceeding 80% of the area median income.
The grants can be used to make homes more habitable overall and energy or water efficiency improvements or accessibility for individuals with disabilities.
“Working families spend their whole lives saving and investing to afford a house and this is going to help them keep it,” said Rep. Jordan Harris, the House Democratic Whip from Philadelphia. “This is economic help for families that need it the most and will ensure that people can stay in the communities they grew up in and keep their homes in their family.”
The budget also includes $150 million for the Development Cost Relief Program, and $100 million for Affordable Housing Construction to help people remain in their homes and access affordable housing.
State park and environment funding
The environment is a big budget benefactor.
“I was pleased to vote in favor of a budget that dedicates a record amount of funding for our environment, including more funding for the state’s conservation districts to improve nutrient management, flood control, permitting and other conservation-related projects,” said Rep.Tracy Pennycuick, a Republican from Montgomery County.
The budget also calls for additional investments in the Small Water and Sewer Program that benefits municipalities throughout the state. State parks and forests will be able to be rehabilitated, repaired and developed with a $100 million investment.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has said it is in need of $1.4 billion for infrastructure repairs and improvements to parks. It oversees 121 state parks and has witnessed a bump in visitors, mostly fueled by the pandemic. The agency said it is addressing wear and tear and extreme weather and climate change impacts as well as high demand for outdoor recreation.
Avian influenza fight
The budget boosts funding to combat avian influenza in the state by $32 million.
The state saw an outbreak of the highly infectious strain of avian influenza at a handful of poultry farms, mostly in Lancaster County, this spring. The budget earmarks $1 million for additional staffing at the Department of Agriculture; $25 million for payments to impacted farms; and $6 million for increased laboratory surveillance activities.
Additionally, the budget reinstates $5 million General Fund appropriation for the Farm Show, reducing the reliance on Race Horse Development Fund dollars. Funding for Agricultural Research and Extension increases by 5% to $2.75 million.
PennLive reporter Daniel Urie contributed to this report.
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