State law requires Pennsylvania to pass its annual budget by June 30, and Special People In Northeast Inc. picked a good time to host a legislative breakfast.
SPIN welcomed state Reps. Tom Murt, Larry Curry, Dennis O’Brien, Kevin Boyle and Vanessa Brown to its Norcom Community Center last week to press its case for adequate funding for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.
In March, Gov. Tom Corbett announced a proposed $27.3 billion budget. Some of the loudest cries of being shortchanged came from advocates for public education.
When the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a budget plan on May 24, members restored some funds to public education, but to make up the difference, they decreased the amount of money Corbett proposed for the public welfare department. The Pennsylvania Senate has yet to pass a budget, and the folks at SPIN hope the House version does not become law.
“It will absolutely hurt people,” said Kathy Brown McHale, SPIN’s new CEO.
The human services organization employs more than 1,100 people and cares for 3,500-plus children and adults with disabilities.
In Pennsylvania, the human services industry provides support to more than 46,000 individuals, many of whom once lived in state-run institutions.
The budget passed the House by a vote of 109-92. Republicans contended that they crafted a responsible budget in tough economic times and noted that there were no tax increases. As for Democratic howls, they pointed out that the minority party did not offer a budget or even amendments of their own.
The vote was largely along party lines, though O’Brien and fellow Republican Rep. John Taylor were opposed to the plan. Opponents cited some recent revenue that came to the state’s coffers.
“There’s five-hundred-thousand dollars on the table,” said O’Brien, who called the budget “shallow” said “irresponsible.”
SPIN, which started as a camp in 1971, also has a new executive director in Judy Dotzman. She said much of the agency’s success could be attributed to the employees, most of whom love the work they do.
“Our work force is second to none,” she said.
Dotzman pointed to Megan Metzger, who was recently named the state’s Direct Support Professional of the Year by the American Network of Community Options and Resources. Metzger, who directs a SPIN home for three women on Avon Street in Somerton, was in Baltimore on Monday and Tuesday to receive her award at ANCOR’s conference.
Joanne Leonard, a SPIN trustee, said her son Danny, 48, has been living in one of the agency’s group homes in Bustleton for 13 years and is doing well. She credits the employees.
“His staff is like family,” she said. “We have a great communication. Thank God for SPIN.”
One SPIN client, LaMark Hall, addressed the crowd alongside community affairs manager Katie Clancy. Hall, a self-advocate who receives weekly support from the agency, lives in an apartment with his cat, T.C. He spoke of his work at the Tasty Baking Co. and how he helps neighbors with landscaping and shoveling snow.
Brown McHale, the CEO, believes Hall is a good example of a client who is thriving. She explained that other SPIN clients are more vulnerable and need lifetime support to lead productive, meaningful, engaged lives. She fears a loss of $1.7 million if the House budget is adopted. Her recommendations are to spend the newly realized $506 million and to tax development of the Marcellus Shale formation, which contains natural gas reserves.
In recent months, Brown McHale and Dotzman have taken over for the husband-and-wife team of David and Trina Losinno, who headed the agency for four decades before their retirement. The two are new to their positions, but they’re SPIN veterans and were long ago identified by the Losinnos — who attended the breakfast — as the right people to take their place.
O’Brien, who is running for an at-large City Council seat, believes the state has a responsibility to adequately fund programs for children and adults with disabilities. He urged the crowd to act.
“If you want to do something to honor Dave and Trina Losinno,” he said, “I think what we should do is fight against these cuts.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org