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  • Writer's pictureHunger-Free Pennsylvania

Budget Scenario: 'Advocates Wanted'

Your role as an anti-hunger advocate just got a little bit tougher --- even as it became all that more important.

In case you missed the news this week, Pennsylvania state government is heading into the 2017 budget season with its biggest revenue shortfall since the recession, according to the Independent Fiscal Office.

According to the IFO report issued on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf the General Assembly probably will have to find ways to close a budget hole approaching $1.5 billion as they craft a final spending plan for 2017-18 fiscal year.

The IFO report came about 24 hours after the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue on Monday announced that April’s tax collections came in at $537 million, or 13 percent, below expectations.

April is typically among the strongest months for revenue collections, with March and April combining to make up about a quarter of state’s annual collections. The two months came in about $766 million short of projections.

So, yes, it’s a fact: State government must find a way to manage some serious fiscal challenges. But that’s no surprise. We’ve known the numbers for a long time. With the exception of October, collections have fallen short every month since the fiscal year started in July.

But dealing with fiscal challenges is nothing new to us, either. It’s something we deal with daily. There isn’t a single community in Pennsylvania that isn’t affected by hunger and each and every one of our organizations has had to fight in the face of chronic underfunding to ensure hungry families have access to the resources they need.

That’s the kind of sustained effort that’s required if we’re going to address the enormous challenges facing food assistance providers and the millions of Pennsylvanians who rely on us for help.

Additional state support is critical, too.

The State Food Purchase Program (SFPP) remains one of the commonwealth’s most important tools in the fight against hunger. In 2006-07, the state allotted $18.75 million for SFPP. But now, a full decade later, funding for SFPP is even lower, at $18.188 million.

There is some good news, as I’ve reported before.

On Tuesday, April 4, the House of Representatives passed its version of the 2017-18 General Fund budget. Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled his proposed spending plan on Feb. 7. Both plans proposed $19.188 million for SFPP, with $1 million of that amount dedicated for the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS).

It’s a start. The Senate still needs to weigh in with its priorities as part of this budget process, and all sides need to come together to hammer out a final deal. We know from past experiences that that’s not always easy or timely.

That’s why we need to keep pushing. May and June are the critical months as we make the case for $21 million for SFPP and $5 million for PASS.

Many of you will be joining us in Harrisburg to meet personally with legislators during this time, and we thank you. Your hard work and advocacy are essential --- and, honestly, needed more this year than ever before.

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