Testimony to Allegheny County Council

The following is a testimony delivered by Grant Oliphant, President and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation to a public hearing of Allegheny County Council on November 9, 2011 concerning its proposed budget for 2012. This was among more than 50 testimonies from local nonprofits and community leaders addressing proposed cuts in funding for human services programs.


I am deeply concerned about what we see happening in our Pittsburgh communities, which are symptomatic of a worsening crisis across the United States.

First, I recognize that as members of Allegheny County Council you are charged with applying effective fiscal disciplines to the way that our county is managed. I am respectful of your responsibilities and the unenviable tasks you have in the present economic climate in making this a place where all of our citizens can benefit and prosper.

But we need to examine carefully this seemingly relentless cycle of spending cuts that pushes our nonprofit organizations further to the brink as they struggle to provide critical human services programs, and further exacerbates the real hardship of those among us whose needs are greatest.

The system is broken, not only here in western Pennsylvania, but throughout the United States and if we are to be successful in developing a robust approach to addressing what is undeniably an alarming growth in poverty, it has to be multi-layered and it has to be collaborative. That means all of us need to work together – independent funding organizations, nonprofits, public officials and our community as a whole.

We consider this against a background of severe hardship that confronts an increasing number of our neighbors. Recently reported data shows that almost 15 percent of the US population – or 45.8 million people – now depend on food stamps.  The latest census data reports that the number of America’s poorest poor has risen to a record high of one in every 15 people. Many experts in the field hold the view that this is low-balling the true extent of the crisis.

Within our Allegheny community, these statistics represent real and desperate human need; lives that are devastated – in many cases irrevocably – by the economic downturn. My friend and colleague, Joyce Rothermel, former Executive Director of the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, coined the phrase ‘the new poor,’ referring to the upsurge in numbers of individuals and families seeking charitable help for the first time. Then we have growing numbers of working poor – they have full-time jobs but their minimum wage earnings are insufficient to raise them above the poverty threshold or to make ends meet.

Specifically, I appear before you today to make a special appeal for you to reinstate at least part of the $37 million reduction in spending in Allegheny County Executive, Dan Onorato’s proposed budget for 2012.

Of this amount, $22 million is for child welfare and human services, but it is a nuance of the system that only $5 million of this is actually funded by Allegheny County which then leverages the remaining $17 million in state and federal dollars.  Otherwise, this $17 million, urgently needed to pay for critical programs in our community, will be left on the table.

Addressing poverty and issues impacting the quality of life for all of our citizens are central to The Pittsburgh Foundation’s mission and even though charitable giving continues to be strong in our community, foundations also are struggling at this time as the result of the recession. We are not in the position where we are able to plug public funding shortfalls at local and state levels.

So I and my counterparts representing funding organizations and nonprofits who testify today do so on behalf of those who do not have a voice: the vulnerable and the disadvantaged, including children and the elderly.

Their needs are real, and they are desperate.

Thank you.