Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, with about 20 poster-bearing supporters from various local organizations in tow, squared off with state government to keep the county's services untouched at a press conference this morning.
The goal, as stated in a letter Wagner sent to Gov. Tom Corbett, is to fully or at least partially restore cuts included in his proposed 2012-13 budget. The outrage is mainly directed at Corbett's proposed 20 percent cut in human services, which she claims will have dire effects on residents' livelihood.
Wagner pointed out the "irony" of Corbett's cuts because he used to be a county resident. "He's pouring salt on the wounds of his own county's residents ... He should take care of his own first," she said.
Supporters at the conference included members from KidsVoice, an organization which helps abused and neglected children; SEIU Local 668, a social services union; and Kane Hospital, a senior care and rehabilitation facility.
Scott Hollander, executive director of KidsVoice, is afraid of the cuts' impact on children. The cuts, he said, will affect the entirety of their lives; from when they're abused as children and can't get the help they need to when they're adults and can't cope with the emotional and physical consequences, potentially ending up in jail or worse.
According to Hollander, without funding to increase staff for KidsVoice and other organizations like it, this could be the future for many neglected children because of Corbett's cuts.
Wagner shared such concern. "[Corbett] said what we're going to do is block grant mental illness, substance abuse, programs for the homeless," she said. "Those are three of the areas that I think studies show, when you take away services, those are the people who end up in our jails."
Supporters noted that even if the budget is approved as is, they will not stop protesting and will try to stretch what they have or find other resources to maintain services. In December, Allegheny County approved a 1-mill tax increase to ensure funding for human services programs.
Photo: Steve Mellon/PG. Keshauna Madden, 2, of McKees Rocks takes part on the KidsVoice "Kites for Kids" parade at Station Square in 2007.