State-funded programs seek security as lawmakers work to finish Pennsylvania’s budget

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania lawmakers have until the end of November to complete the state budget.

A five-month plan was passed in June, as lawmakers assessed the impacts of the pandemic. That funding runs out in less than two weeks, leaving several state programs uncertain about their futures.

There is expected to be a three to four billion dollar deficit, which has some advocates worried about cuts. Still, lawmakers say CARES Act funding will be used to fill a significant portion of that gap.

One of the programs seeking security is Early Intervention Pre-School Services.

“Taylor was born at 27 weeks,” said Tameka Hughes of Harrisburg. “She weighed one pound. The doctors didn’t expect her to survive.”

But Taylor Hughes did that and more. Her parents Tameka and Ty Hughes say it was years of medical care, plus Early Intervention Pre-School Services, that got her to where she is today.

“Speech, physical therapy, occupational therapy and special instruction,” said Tameka Hughes.

Early Intervention helps young children with disabilities or developmental delays get ready to go to school, benefitting both the K-12 system they enter and families, like the Hughes.

“Not only are they teaching Taylor, but they’re also teaching us, the parents, how to work with our child,” said Ty Hughes.

The statewide program serving thousands of students is run by school districts and intermediate units.

But workers and advocates say they haven’t heard anything about Early Intervention’s future, as funding runs out in less than two weeks and lawmakers haven’t finalized a budget for the rest of the fiscal year.

“We are doing everything we can to minimize our expenses right now to try to carry through a little bit but we are very concerned,” said Alicia McDonald, the director of student services at the Capital Area Intermediate Unit.

But is there reason to be worried? The state Department of Human Services tells ABC27 funding will continue once a new budget is created.

“If the balance of the budget is not enacted by November 30, 2020, early intervention providers will be in a similar position as years when the budget is not enacted by June 30,” said Erin James, the press secretary at the Department of Human Services. “They will continue to provide services and be retroactively paid when the budget is resolved.”

Still, families like the Hughes want funding finalized, so services are secure.

“While Taylor’s story is unique, it isn’t totally unique,” said Ty Hughes. “There are lots of Taylors out there. There are lots of Hughes families out there who will benefit or will continue to benefit from this level of support.”

“I would say this program is extremely instrumental,” said Tameka Hughes. “Taylor is doing phenomenal now. She loves school.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to be at the Capitol Thursday and Friday to work on the budget.

Another concern is that the program may get less funding than before; an increasing number of families participate each year.

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