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Governor Rendell's Budget: Helping Families Weather the National Recession

HARRISBURG, Pa., Feb. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Governor Edward G. Rendell's budget for 2009-10 will help Pennsylvania families to weather the national economic recession by making strategic investments in education, health care, support for food banks, services for veterans and college tuition relief.

Helping Taxpayers; Investing in Student Success

"One of the most immediate steps we can take to help Pennsylvanians in difficult economic times is to keep property taxes from rising further," said Governor Rendell. "That's why my budget will boost state funds for public schools by $300 million, increasing the state's share of funding to help reduce pressure on local property taxpayers."

In addition to making a substantial increase in the basic education subsidy, the 2009-10 budget sustains Pennsylvania's progress by continuing to support other successful academic programs.

The Governor's budget also will help families that are struggling to meet the rising costs of college.

"Pennsylvania families are today wrestling with the gut-wrenching question of whether they can still afford to send their children to college. Getting a degree and being qualified to enter the working world makes all the difference in our economy," the Governor said. "When it comes to helping young people get there, the hard truth is that right now, we are not doing nearly enough to provide students and the families that support them with the means to complete their college degrees."

To achieve this, the Governor has proposed the Pennsylvania Tuition Relief Act, which will provide critically needed college tuition assistance to Pennsylvania families earning less than $100,000 a year. All incoming students who qualify and seek to attend public or community colleges will pay what they can afford in accordance with established financial aid practices. Every family will pay at least $1,000 a year for each child in college.

For families with incomes under $100,000, students could obtain as much as $7,600 in relief for tuition, fees, room and board. "This is not a proposal for a free ride," Governor Rendell added. "These payments will greatly enhance the ability to fund a public or community college education. In helping these students, we are investing in a brighter future for ourselves, as well."

To pay for this program, the Governor proposed that the commonwealth enact legislation to legalize video poker and tax its proceeds. Other states have successfully generated hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue using this approach.

"Despite what some might think, I do not view the legalization of video poker as the first step in an attempt to expand gaming in Pennsylvania. I remain opposed to any such expansion, and I have said so publicly many times. But we are not talking about an expansion, because video poker already exists and is thriving here," the Governor said.

"Rather, what I propose is to take control of this industry, so that we can remove unscrupulous operators, establish strict new regulations and tough penalties for those who fail to obey the law, and generate needed revenues. At a time when families desperately need to find a way to reclaim their children's college education, I challenge anyone to justify why we should deny this relief to our fellow citizens."

The Governor's budget also includes a $35 million increase in Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) tuition grants. It also will dedicate $10 million to provide grants to nearly 10,000 additional community college students while ensuring that other college and university students do not lose their grants as a result of a reduction in contributions to student grants by PHEAA. Enrollment at many community colleges has increased dramatically due to the national recession, and Governor Rendell's dedicated new PHEAA funding for community college students as well as a $5 million increase in community college operating support will keep tuition costs under control.

Both of the Governor's higher education proposals will enable 20,000 additional students to seek college degrees - even in these hard economic times.

In addition, the Governor's budget doubles capital funding for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to $130 million in 2009-10 - ensuring that college students will learn in facilities that prepare them for the high-tech world, while creating jobs across the commonwealth.

The budget also continues Governor Rendell's annual commitment of $100 million in funding for important campus projects at the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University, Lincoln University, and Temple University.

Expanding Health Care, Support for Families

Governor Rendell's proposed budget will continue his efforts to improve the availability of health care for working Pennsylvanians. This budget increases health care spending by $800 million over the current year's budget, providing health care for the poor, elderly and people with disabilities.

"Here in Pennsylvania, a stunning one million people cannot go to the doctor, because they have no health insurance," Governor Rendell said. "Since 2000, more than a half a million Pennsylvanians have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance. That trend is getting worse. The evidence is in the swell of Pennsylvanians on the adultBasic waiting list -- 183,000 people, up from 90,000 just 10 months ago."

Administered by the state Insurance Department, adultBasic covers the basic healthcare needs of Pennsylvanians age 19-64 who have no health insurance and who meet certain eligibility requirements.

The Governor has proposed expanding the adultBasic program to provide affordable basic health insurance for more of the uninsured, the vast majority of which are employed. Most of the working uninsured have full-time jobs and many are employed by small businesses. Most earn low wages and do not have access to health insurance because of the high cost of premiums for both businesses and individuals.

Health care coverage under the expanded adultBasic program will be offered through private insurance companies and will include coverage for prescription drugs. The proposal will increase the number of low-income Pennsylvanians with state-supported health care insurance by 50,000 - from approximately 40,000 at the end of fiscal year 2008-09 to an estimated 90,000 by the end of 2009-10.

The total state and federal cost for the expanded adultBasic program is projected to be $251.7 million in 2009. More than half of the funds, or $132.9 million, will come from federal matching funds. State funding for the program is derived from existing tobacco and community health reinvestment funds currently used to pay for the adultBasic program. Enrollees will pay premiums for the coverage, depending on their income level. In years three and four, a total of $66.4 million from the state's Health Care Provider Retention Account will help support the program.

The expanded program will begin providing health care coverage to new enrollees on July 1, 2009, assuming timely passage of state legislation and approval by the federal government for the use of federal matching funds.

To enhance the health of Pennsylvania's children, the Governor's 2009-10 budget includes $407 million in state and federal funds for the Cover All Kids program - an increase of $46.2 million, or 12.8 percent, in state and federal funds to cover an additional 23,480 children. With this increase, the program will cover 206,836 children in 2009-10.

The Governor also highlighted his administration's continuing efforts to help older adults receive needed support services in their own homes rather than live in a nursing facility - an option that is considerably less expensive to taxpayers. He has proposed consolidating the Department of Aging and the Office of Long-Term Living into a single entity. Doing so, the Governor said, will enable the state to provide more and better options for tens of thousands of adults with physical disabilities and older Pennsylvanians, supporting them with needed programs and services while providing opportunities to live independently and grow old with dignity.

Strengthening the Social Safety Net

In times of high economic stress, Pennsylvanians need help. This budget reaffirms the commonwealth's commitment to preserving the safety net for Pennsylvania's most vulnerable citizens and ensures children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and low-income families will have access to health care and other critical services.

To assist families with rising energy costs, the Governor has proposed maintaining increased state funding for the primarily federally-funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, in the amount of $20 million by the end of 2009-10.

A record number of low-income Pennsylvanians are relying on LIHEAP to stay warm this winter. In the first two months of the program year, nearly 331,000 families have received cash grants - an increase of more than 122,000 families over the same period a year ago. In addition, almost 67,000 low-income families have avoided a heating emergency through the crisis grant program, an increase of more than 6,500 families from the previous program year. While these trends partially reflect increased funding and expanded eligibility limits, they also reflect the growing number of Pennsylvanians who need help to heat their homes.

The budget also provides an additional $10 million to help low-income families weatherize their homes and lower their energy bills.

Keeping Food on Pennsylvanians' Tables

At the Governor's direction, the Department of Agriculture is working with state and federal partners to better use funds and available food items to supply the state's food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.

With the new budget's additional $1 million in the State Food Purchase Program, Pennsylvania will be able to purchase an additional 2.25 million pounds of food to be distributed to food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. This will provide more than 1.8 million additional meals to those who are in need.

Pennsylvania is a leader in supplemental food programs, as one of only a few states in the nation to supplement funding for the federal program with state funding.

Expanded Help for Veterans

The Governor's budget will strengthen support for veterans by providing $1 million for new services for veterans; $401,000 for additional life insurance for active-duty members of the Pennsylvania National Guard; and $38,000 to expand veterans' burial guard detail services.

Improving Services to Jobless Pennsylvanians

Governor Rendell recently directed that call-in hours for unemployment compensation be extended to accelerate and strengthen assistance to Pennsylvanians who have lost their jobs. The state's toll-free phone number, 1-888-313-7284, now operates Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. In addition to the new Sunday hours, the call center is open from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The expanded service hours and days are part of an effort that includes hiring nearly 300 temporary employees and the creation of a new call center to increase the department's capacity to take phone calls and process claims.

Customers are reminded the fastest way to get information or file a claim for unemployment compensation benefits is online, 24 hours a day, at

The Rendell administration is committed to creating a first-rate public education system, protecting our most vulnerable citizens and continuing economic investment to support our communities and businesses. To find out more about Governor Rendell's initiatives and to sign up for his weekly newsletter, visit

    Chuck Ardo

SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor

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