Here's what happens next for embattled social-service agencies, drained of life-sustaining dollars by the state budget impasse:

They take to the streets in protest.

You might see day-care staffers outside their centers, theatrically begging for donations. Or workers at group homes pleading with passersby to donate groceries.

Those were two ideas offered yesterday as means to draw attention to the plight of service providers as a community forum on the budget stalemate quickly evolved into a discussion of survival strategies and tactics.

Providers announced plans to join a noon rally on Wednesday at the Delaware County Courthouse in Media. A similar demonstration drew 100 people there earlier this month.

Meanwhile, at the same forum yesterday, one state legislator said court intervention might be needed to break the seven-week-old budget stalemate.

Call them publicity stunts or thoughtful demonstrations, agency leaders said the reality is that dozens of organizations that care for the young, old, sick and needy are fast going broke - and people need to know the cost of their potential absence.

"Now is the time to make noise, folks," Bernadette Bianchi told a standing-room crowd of more than 100, "because a few months from now there's going to be fewer of you in this audience."

Bianchi, executive director of the Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth, and Family Services, said afterward that the budget impasse's effect on human-service agencies had been largely invisible - and that's a problem.

Even in normal times, the effective provision of social services gets little attention.

People who don't need the agencies don't notice them. And for the people who do need them, well, nobody brags to their neighbor that her son successfully completed his alcohol-rehabilitation program or that his daughter is doing well in her group home.

But now, many of the agencies that run those programs have used up their cash reserves and exhausted their credit.

So frustrated executives, parents, and advocates filled a meeting hall yesterday at Methodist Services for Children and Families to demand action, peppering two state legislators with questions.

"Our vendors are refusing to deliver food, which means we can't get food to our group homes," said Richard Chapman, executive director of Juvenile Justice Center Family Services in Germantown, which serves 1,500 children. "We're on the brink of collapse, and we're on the brink of collapse now."

The first question to the legislators: When will the impasse end?

Rep. Lawrence Curry, a Democrat who represents part of Philadelphia and Montgomery County, said it might not end until children go back to school in September. If school programs can't operate, the pressure on the legislature to pass a budget will become intense.

Democrats and Republicans are locked in "a serious, political partisan confrontation" - one that might require court action to break, he said.

Democratic Rep. Kathy Manderino, who also represents part of Philadelphia and Montgomery County, noted that Senate Democrats blocked a Republican effort to override certain line items in Gov. Rendell's budget veto.

If there's no end to the impasse by the weekend, she said, Democrats might stage their own attempt at passing a contingency budget. The state has operated without a budget since July 1.

Bianchi said no one came to yesterday's meeting to whine. But people in power need to know the social safety net is no longer merely frayed: "We have gaping holes."

Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415 or