Hungry for Help

Impasse strains the nonprofit

Arch Street Center leans on the community to fill its cupboards and weather the budget delay

Because lawmakers have thus far failed to agree on a budget, Arch Street Center turned to the community’s kindness.

“Our pantry is getting bare and (we) are in desperate need of food,” read the center’s plea for help, posted on its website.

The community answered by donating money and food to help the center weather the storm until legislators agree on passing the state budget, which is now more than two months late.

“We are so grateful!” the nonprofit conveyed gratitude in a posting on its Facebook page last week. “Companies, churches, social clubs, families, and individuals have been bringing in food, paper goods, and cleaning supplies all week.”

The center, which feeds at least 40 people daily, is among many nonprofits delivering social services that are struggling in the face of the ongoing budget impasse. The drop-in facility for people with mental illness depends heavily on public funding with roughly 70 percent of its $230,000 annual budget coming from the state.

Susanne Materia, Arch Street’s director of development, said the community’s response has been heartwarming. The donated items are helping fill the gap, she said, and the new relationships that are being forged might help cut costs even after the state funding is restored.

For example, she said, Lancaster Central Market manager Jessica Mailhot heard of the need and invited Arch Street to come by every Saturday and pick up leftovers that couldn’t be sold.

Mailhot said the market does that for several different nonprofits, and just happened to be looking for a new Saturday recipient just as she heard of the need at Arch Street.

“They are a great organization,” she said.

The arrangement has worked out splendidly, Materia said, and all the produce has allowed the nonprofit to offer healthier meals.

Arch Street has also seen other positives from the impasse.

“We’re getting some great publicity,” she said. “People are finding out about our service to the community.”

But all that said, she wants the budget to pass soon. Arch Street weathered a previous impasse, but only by cutting back hours and laying off staff. It hasn’t had to do that yet this time, but will have to consider it before long.

For Arch Street, as with the other nonprofits that are waiting for funding from the state, the sooner the budget passes, the better, she said.

“We’re frustrated because the people who are the most affected are the most vulnerable,” she said. “It doesn’t seem as though there’s any movement or compromise, yet we’re forced to compromise every day.”

Legislators react

On Wednesday, elected officials did not have a ready solution to offer but blamed the other party for creating a situation that is causing organizations like Arch Street to struggle.

“This funding should never have been held hostage for other parts of the budget,” State Rep. Bryan Cutler, a Republican whose district includes Lancaster, said in an email statement Wednesday.

Cutler wrote that situations like Arch Street’s were why he supported the failed line item override of Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget veto.

“After voting twice to fund some of these services, many of us continue to use every available tool to get the money to these providers,” he said. “One of the methods on the table is a stopgap budget because we refuse to allow Commonwealth residents to continue to be harmed during negotiations.”

State Rep. Mike Sturla, a Democrat whose district includes Lancaster, said he thinks a stopgap would continue the problem, not resolve it.

“A stopgap budget that says more of the same says less again,” Sturla said.

He recounted cuts in the last two state budgets that decreased county funds for social services by 10 percent, then delayed reimbursement for a month. The budget that Republicans passed and the Wolf vetoed would have continued that trend, he said, by using an accounting gambit to shortchange counties about $170 million on human services reimbursement.

“I understand that they are hurting tremendously,” Sturla said of nonprofits like Arch Street. Their plight, he said, underscores why he thinks it’s important to restore the funding that was cut over the past several years.

And, he said, even if legislators reached agreement on a stopgap measure, that would just make the difficulties in the rest of the budget worse.

Always Lancaster – Thursday, September 10, 2015
By Heather Stauffer