Archive for Legislative Members’ Comments

Rep. Brown on Event in the Poconos

I applaud Chairman Dave Reed and the members of the Policy Committee for taking the initiative to look further into povReed110613PolicyOnPoverty04erty in our state and specifically in Monroe County, a portion of my district.  It is a tremendous effort that this committee has taken on to look deeper into the poverty issue, which is often a very emotional and difficult issue to address. Poverty  is judged and  it’s  causes, circumstances and solutions are often assumed. The Empowering Opportunities Initiative is needed so we have the most updated, realistic, and  accurate information on the issue.  The legislative body must always research and understand what is happening at the grass roots level, to effectively understand any  situation or issue and how to best improve it.


This initiative approached  the many organizations and associations  that work daily to help people in poverty , allowing them to communicate  the obstacles they encounter .  The information we received was tremendous and honest. It was evident that in Monroe county some of the largest struggles are affordable housing and quality, affordable child care . These two issues were common ground across the state in the fight against increased poverty. Another strong point uncovered was the need for transitional benefits to ensure that opportunities to progress out of the poverty cycle were not missed due to a financial hole that could not be avoided if benefits were immediately lost.  The discussion of long term solutions to improve quality of life and financial stability were strong and evident.

I thank all of the committee members for their efforts and hard work on the poverty issue.

I look forward to continuing to work with fellow legislators as we look further into our current state systems that support individuals in poverty and utilizing the information we gathered to make them work more effectively. The goal is to help move individuals out of poverty into long- term, independent, financially stabile environments enhancing their quality of life.


-Rep. Rosemary Brown

Rep. Simmons on Allentown Event

I was pleased to be able to join several of my House colleagues and local community leaders on Nov. 7 for a frank discussion about poverty in the Lehigh Valley and what we, as lawmakers, can do to help more individuals and families escape its grip. The roundtable took place at Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown and included representatives from area schools, nonprofit organizations and economic development groups.

 IMGL9017The House Majority Policy Committee has been holding meetings like this around the state in recent months to gain a better understanding of the extent of poverty in Pennsylvania and its devastating impact on communities like ours.

Our discussion focused on youth intervention efforts, community economic development initiatives and jobs programs for the unemployed and underemployed. We heard a number of great ideas for fighting poverty. One participant told us that reducing the number of high school dropouts is critical. Another told us that funding literacy programs is important.

We also learned that zoning issues contribute to the creation of impoverished neighborhoods. There are more than 60 municipalities in our region, each with its own zoning regulations, which makes it difficult to develop cohesive land use plans that would enhance economic development. One participant stressed that anti-poverty programs should not be about getting people “out of the hood,” but about turning struggling communities into places where people want to stay.

It has been nearly 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty and the nation has spent some $7 trillion since then on anti-poverty programs. But despite all of that spending, there are still 26 million Americans today who live below the poverty line. We need to do better.

 I’d like to thank committee Chairman Dave Reed for scheduling the meeting and everyone who took part. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues in Harrisburg on developing effective legislative solutions to this serious problem.


-Rep. Justin Simmons


Urban Institute Live Tweet Session

Last week, the House Majority Policy Committee participated in a live tweet session with various national stakeholders in regards to the current war on poverty.

Other stakeholders included Zach McDade, Susan Popkin, Margery Turner, Austin Nichols, Greg Kaufmann, Scott Winship, MDRC, Jared Bernstein, Elizabeth Kneebone, and Melissa Boteach. 

To read the entire conversation and the policy committee’s responses…Click Here.

Rep. Donna Oberlander on Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank


It was a pleasure to join my colleagues in Duquesne at the Pittsburgh Food Bank.  It was an opportunity to see first hand the lead organization in coordinating the food purchases and deliver/pick-up of food for many of the food pantries in the surrounding 11 counties.  This is a massive operation requiring 100s of volunteers every week, from churchReed082713HungerRoundTablePittsburgh08 groups, rotary clubs, community service groups and hundreds of others.


The tour of the facility provided by Dora Wamsley was informative and enlightening.  She described the food purchase process and the changing technology that allows the freshest, healthiest food options to get out the door to the food banks as quickly as possible.  

After the tour we had a roundtable discussion with some of the other organizations that work hand-in-hand with the Pittsburgh Food Bank.  They brought it home in describing that the hungry do not necessarily match the stereotypical poverty stricken picture often depicted on television.  The hungry may look like the 80 year old woman, recently widowed that has spent her life savings to provide care for her ailing husband or the middle-class family that finds themselves laid-off indefinitely with bills that are now beyond their ability to pay.  Hunger does not reserve itself to the drug-addicted and the lazy.  It touches the single mom working two jobs while Food Bank- Group Shotattending school to provide a better life for her children and young family working hard to make ends meet with a new baby to feed.  These are all people that are helped by the food provided by the generosity of our communities, local food banks, business donations, the Pittsburgh Food Bank and the tax payers.


Through this series of policy tours and hearings the goal is to find real solutions to the continuing epidemic of poverty in this Commonwealth and in this nation. I believe that the information we have heard so far has been helpful in bringing to light a more accurate picture of the scope of issue.  I know that there have also been overarching problems identified and I am hopeful that we will find workable solutions that will help to provide empowerment out of poverty for those desiring it.Food Bank- Stacks of Food


I greatly appreciate the leadership of Policy Chairman, Dave Reed and the work of the legislators and agencies putting these informational meetings together.


-Rep. Donna Oberlander, 63rd Legislative District

Rep. Sankey on the Roundtable on Rural Poverty


It was great to see so many community leaders come out for Tuesday’s hearing on rural poverty.  As I mentioned during the hearing, the Clearfield County area was once a booming industrial area.  It has been said that our biggest export is agriculture, but I have a suspicion that it is really our children.  They grow up in rural areas like Clearfield and then leave after high school or college. 

Sankey Roundtable - ResizeThe poverty rate in our district is 15 percent.  That is compared to the statewide poverty level of 12.5 percent.  The goal of “Empowering Opportunities:  Gateways Out of Poverty” is to identify challenges to families which prevent them from rising out of poverty.  Hearings like the one held Tuesday in Clearfield are great ways to hear from people “on the ground” trying to address poverty across our state.  Through discussions with the leaders of local charity organizations, church groups and county officials, I believe we can come out with better, more refined solutions to the problems connected to poverty. 

Even though Tuesday’s hearing was in Clearfield County, that does not mean that we’re solely looking at rural poverty.  We plan to listen to the concerns of people across the state as this initiative continues.  Urban poverty continues to be a major concern, along with one area that surprises some people:  suburban poverty.

I look forward to hearing from more groups across Pennsylvania on the problems they’re facing and working together toward solutions that can help our state’s residents rise out of poverty.

-Rep. Tommy Sankey (R-Clearfield)

Committee Meets with the United Way of Allegheny County


Continuing our efforts to focus on ways Pennsylvania can better combat poverty, my staff and I met with the United Way of Allegheny County on Tuesday, July 30, to discuss the organization’s work in addressing poverty in our communities.

The team from the United Way, which is known nationwide for its community outreach and support initiatives, provided us with perspective on ways to help streamline the state’s existing anti-poverty efforts to promote better service to Pennsylvania families.

Several of the challenges faced by low-income living in poverty could be better alleviated by simplifying the current system. Many times, when folks are in need of assistance, emergency aid or simply access to job training and employment opportunities, they are forced to jump through so many hoops that it makes it difficult to get a step ahead.

The team from the United Way provided some very good suggestions and offered their ongoing support as we work to develop new solutions to create gateways out of poverty. Engaging with groups like the United Way, lawmakers have the opportunity to learn more from the people who serve as the “boots on the ground” in our state’s effort to combat poverty.

They also provided good suggestions relating to performance measures of existing anti-poverty programs. It is imperative that as we work to address the day-to-day challenges faced by those living in poverty that we ensure the programs currently in place are working as they are intended.

I appreciate the time and effort offered by the United Way of Allegheny County, and I look forward to working with them throughout this process.


- Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana)

Rep. Stern on Policy Committee’s Tour and Discussion with Dr. Zane Gates


I was honored to host the Republican Policy Committee to Blair County to tour Dr. Zane Gates Health Clinic.

SternAs we look for ways to offer health care coverage for the working poor, this operation in Blair County is a model to emulate for the entire Commonwealth.

UPMC Altoona has saved millions of dollars in unreimbursed costs by reducing the number of patients having to use their Emergency Room.

They have done this by investing into a partnership with Dr. Gates. Through better interaction between doctors and health care professionals working alongside pharmaceutical personnel in his clinic, they can help educate patients in preventive care.

I have referred many constituents that work several jobs but can’t afford insurance to his office.

They place an emphasis on patient care, not whether you have the proper form of insurance coverage. Actually, they offer an insurance plan for $99 month that has comparable coverage that major insurance companies would like to be able to offer.

The way they offer health care to needy patients that have no place to turn, other than an ER visit, is a community treasure and saves thousands of trips to UPMC Altoona’s Emergency Room, thus providing better care at a more efficient price for everyone.


-Rep. Jerry Stern (R-Blair)
80th Legislative District


Rep. Gingrich on Our Discussion with Palmyra Circles of Lebanon County


It was my privilege to welcome the House Majority Policy Committee to my district in Lebanon County as House members search for the best practices in place combatting poverty across the Commonwealth and to determine what legislative remedies may be necessary and appropriate to assist in this policy initiative.Gingrichport

The House Majority Policy Committee selected Palmyra Circles of Lebanon County as the first stop in its statewide tour for the Empowering Opportunities initiative.  Circles, a program designed to bring volunteers and community leaders together to help families intent on breaking out of poverty, was recognized by the committee for its effectiveness and the potential to replicate its practices elsewhere in the state. 

The Lebanon County Circles group currently has 13 individuals committed to moving themselves and their families out of their “near poverty” circumstances.  As participants, they are called Circle Leaders.  Each family has a middle class “ally” who assists the leaders in achieving their goal.

As the committee members spoke informally with the participants, we were reminded that the working poor face immeasurable obstacles. By definition, their wages, in low-paying jobs, are insufficient to provide basic necessities such as paying for housing, utilities, food, child care and transportation. Health care looms large as most have no insurance coverage.  One unexpected bill can knock them financially off balance.  They have significant trouble finding and keeping a job or managing to save money. Numerous factors can set people back. They identified obstacles such as criminal records/spending time in jail and parole, loss of employment, caring for children and medical/health issues. They are caught in a cycle that makes it almost impossible to maintain a healthy sense of self-worth.


Circles GraphicAs members of the Circle program, the participants have a sense of support they have never felt before. Allies and Circles Leaders teach each other, based on life experiences and successes. Education is the key and sometimes that means being educated on making commonsense decisions or basic rules of running a household and the financial planning and responsibilities that come along with it. Allies are the people next door and become real everyday life coaches to help to create the pathway out of poverty. It was amazing to witness and hear the enthusiasm of the participants. One comment that exemplifies the outcome of the Circles program is this quote from a Circle Leader: “It’s refreshing to see where we were and where we are now. And we owe a lot to this place (Palmyra Circles).”


The sense of self worth shined on their faces—FINALLY!

-Rep. Mauree Gingrich (R-Lebanon)


Check out Palmyra Circles of Lebanon County’s Website too!

Poverty Simulation- July 15th


Being a member of the Indiana County Community Action Board, I jumped at the chance to host a Poverty Simulation for House members as our launching point for the Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty policy initiative. 

We were thrilled to have such a great turnout for the event—many thanks to Representatives Sankey, Gingrich, Dunbar, Stephens, Quinn, Saylor, Brown, Helm, Tobash, Oberlander, Delozier, Cutler, English, Kampf, Gabler, Corbin, and Fee for their participation.  Members071513AttendingPovertySimulator70We were happy to be joined by members from the faith based and community organizations who volunteered to participate as well.

The simulation was sincerely an eye opening experience—providing both myself and other lawmakers with a peek at what folks living in poverty go through in attempting to not only breach economic independence but to just make ends meet.


While the simulation is designed to be stressful, it also depicts real life challenge that working poor folks face.  With limited money, tight transportation budgets, ailing in-laws’ medical payments, and unexpected expenses that pop up, the simulation provided a stark example of the challenges of living in poverty in Pennsylvania.   Members071513AttendingPovertySimulator105

As the Policy Committee continues to crisscross the state studying the best and worst practices in place to combat poverty, this experience will certainly stick in my mind.  I hope the comprehensive approach we take in studying various types of poverty in a variety of areas of  the state will continue to provide such insights to the barriers our folks face as they attempt to break out of poverty.

I want to thank Joe Ostrander, Megan Shreve and their volunteers from the Community Action Association of Pennsylvania for their efforts in putting together this simulation.  This launching point certainly gave both me and other legislators a broad look at the issues facing the working poor in this state.Members071513AttendingPovertySimulator79

- Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana)

Welcome to the Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty Blog!


Last week, the House Majority Policy Committee launched our newest policy initiative Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty. With nearly $1 trillion spent nationwide combatting poverty coupled with 1.5 million Pennsylvanians and 46 million Americans still living in poverty; clearly we must readjust our focuses.  

The Policy Committee is planning to investigate both the cycle of poverty Reed071513Presser03and how current programs combat challenges facing our low income citizens.  Because this issue is so vast, and the Policy Committee will be crisscrossing the state hosting a wide variety of roundtable discussions, tours, and hearings regarding the issues related to poverty, I wanted to make sure folks had a chance to take this journey along with us.  

The blog will serve as an update from both myself and my fellow legislators as we make new discoveries throughout this process. 

Make sure to constantly check back for updates from our various meetings with stakeholders, newspaper articles, and other Policy Committee events related to the Empowering Opportunities initiative.

With that being said, check out my first update on my thoughts from poverty simulation held on July 15th, just hours after our press conference.

-Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana)