Senior centers have cut staff hours. Adults who want to learn to read are told to wait, and classes have been cut. Agencies that help bathe and feed people with disabilities have sought hundreds of thousands of dollars on credit, not knowing when the state will reimburse them or if their credit will run out.
Pennsylvania - with its budget impasse nearing the end of its second month - is already behind by $114 million in payments to 585 nonprofits in the region, according to a survey by the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Some groups have only a month's worth of cash left. Nearly a third have laid off staff, and almost half have asked staff members to go with reduced or no pay.
Some groups have stopped paying their bills and federal taxes - a death knell for nonprofit groups, said David Fair, senior vice president of community impact for the United Way.
Recipients of state aid - from school districts to social agencies - have not received state funds during the last eight weeks of the budget impasse. Talks continue among officials in Harrisburg. Gov. Rendell has tried to push for a tax increase to pay for social and education services. Senate Republicans say the burden on taxpayers is already too high.
"These decisionmakers get so distracted by their politics and their egos," Fair said to a crowd of about 200 people gathered yesterday in Media to protest the impasse and proposed cuts to state-funded programs. Social services "mean relief of pain and, for some people, life and death."
Even if a budget were passed today, it would take weeks for state funds to reach the nonprofits that are already suffering, Fair said.
"There is no more time for politics, there is no more time for debate," he said. "The time is for action."
Freedom Valley Disability Center, a nonprofit whose $290,000 budget is paid for by the state, can go one more month on its reserves. After that, the operation, run by people with disabilities who mentor and guide others with disabilities in Delaware, Chester and Montgomery Counties, will be broke, said executive director Ann Cope.
"Put your politics aside, sit down at the table," said Cope. "Negotiate, compromise, do whatever you need to do."
Patrick Watson, 29, who is developmentally disabled and lives with his parents in Aldan, held a sign that read, "I need my staff to survive." Four days a week, members of Community Interactions help him go to movies, bowl and socialize, said executive director Robyn Zippilli. The organization in Swarthmore serves more than 250 people each day.
"He lives at home with his parents, and his parents might work," Zippilli said. "What will happen if we do lose funding? One of his parents may have to stop working" to care for him during the day.
JoAnn Weinberger, executive director of the Center for Literacy, which assists people in Delaware County and Philadelphia, has dipped into its $400,000 line of credit to pay some of its 75 workers and has asked for another $400,000 in credit. The agency will have to pay back the interest with its own funds, she said.
"This is the worst situation we've ever been in," said Weinberger, who has been with the agency since 1986.
If the state accepts the Senate's proposed budget, which calls for a 27 percent cut to adult literacy programs, the agency will have to cancel 10 classes and stop serving 400 students, she said.
Alexis Brown, executive director of the Community Women's Education Project, has laid off four employees and reduced hours for half of the remaining 26 employees, including herself.
The group provides education, job training, and child-care services to about 350 individuals a year. Fall classes have been postponed, leaving some students in desperate straits: Their welfare benefits may expire before they receive job training, Brown said.
"It's a ticking bomb," she said.
Even groups that were supposed to receive state funding under an emergency budget signed by Rendell aren't getting promised money, said Bill Pierce, executive director of the Downingtown Area Senior Center.
The center cut staff hours but still had enough money to stay open only until Aug. 31. The center took out a bank loan for $25,000 that will buy a couple of more months, Pierce said.
"We could invest in this safety net now or we can invest in it later," he said. "The more damage we do to this safety net, the harder it's going to be to find people affected and restore their services."