Shusterman Weighs in on Governor Wolf’s Budget, Addresses Workforce Development and Economic Sustainability

Shusterman Weighs in on Governor Wolf’s Budget, Addresses Workforce Development and Economic SustainabilityState Rep. Melissa Shusterman
By Rep. Melissa Shusterman, 157th Legislative District

The governor’s proposed budget plan for 2020-21 contained multiple elements that would benefit the future of Pennsylvania’s children, our developing workforce, and the emerging fields and industries that I believe will significantly help move Pennsylvania forward.

Affordable Education & Workforce Development
I support the governor’s proposal to invest $60 million with PHEAA to increase the amount of grants for students, on one condition. Instead of students receiving their education in Pennsylvania then moving away and utilizing their new skills and talents elsewhere, grants should be awarded to those who commit to staying in Pennsylvania post-graduation. This would incentivize graduates to help move Pennsylvania forward, and see to it that the state gets a positive return on its investment.

We cannot afford to keep exporting the skills of our talented Pennsylvanians to other states, but we also need to hold up our end of the bargain. A strong job market and continual workforce development are key to attracting more generations to put down roots in PA—and that doesn’t stop with college students. Building trades are back on the rise, with a 22% increase of registered apprentices since 2016. Salaries to build a family on, good benefits, and debt-free education are at the forefront of recruiting new talent to fill trades positions.

We must set the standard and prove that Pennsylvania can be an economic leader in a variety of fields and invest in workforce development now.

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Stimulating the Economy
The average price of rent, tuition, utilities and overall cost of living has risen over the last decade, yet Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has not followed suit. $7.25 an hour is simply not a livable wage.

One example of a job that only pays the minimum wage in PA: caregiver. When speaking to some of the employees at one of our district’s assisted living facilities, I learned that many of them take two buses to commute to work and elect to work double shifts considering the amount it takes to cover transportation, alone. Moving closer to work is not an option either, as minimum wage does not cover cost of living in the area.

These individuals are not teenagers working part-time jobs for extra spending money, they are full-time employees in skilled professions. Our economy depends on consumer spending. When working people can barely cover life’s basic expenses, it is our local businesses that suffer as well. I fully support the governor’s proposal to raise our minimum wage to $12 an hour, with a gradual increase to $15 in coming years, in order to stimulate economic activity statewide.

Environmental Protections
I also believe our upcoming budget must invest in protecting our environment. Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air and water, and it is our job as a legislature to make sure that right is protected. I will fight for this budget to include funding for the DEP, recycling resources and investing in renewable energy.

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Sweet-heart deals with special interest groups that continue to harm our land and resources cannot continue into this new decade. Legislative efforts to focus on renewable energy, like solar power, are absolutely necessary at this time. Citizens deserve transparency and to have the interests and health of their families put first.

Protecting our Children
Governor Wolf proposed we allot additional funding for our education system, beginning with free, full-day kindergarten. Studies have revealed that children who have access to a full-day kindergarten program have stronger learning and social skills, higher test scores and are more likely to develop economic mobility. Importantly, increased state funding for education would provide necessary property tax relief to our residents.

I fully support addressing the statewide health crisis of asbestos and lead in our schools. This has been a pressing issue in both urban and rural schools across the commonwealth. These toxins are known to lead to cognitive impairment, low IQ and poor ability to pay attention. Every child deserves a safe learning environment, and no one deserves preventable obstacles added to their school day.

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Ensuring the safety of our community’s children extends further than addressing asbestos and lead though. Preventing gun violence benefits all Pennsylvanians, so I strongly support commonsense measures that would keep firearms out of the wrong hands and protect our community. This includes universal background checks, safe storage methods, red flag laws and banning ghost guns.

Food Insecurity
Finally, I would like to see this upcoming budget invest in solving food scarcity throughout the commonwealth. There are currently 1.5 million food insecure people in Pennsylvania. We must make sure this budget provides resources to stakeholders that work toward solving this issue so that Pennsylvanians have access to the most basic of necessities.

These are all issues I’ve vehemently fought for in Harrisburg, as I know they are important to our community. As we move forward with this year’s budget process, I’m hopeful that we can pass a timely budget that also meets the needs of our veterans, aging population, and individuals with disabilities.

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