Archive for Stakeholders’ Comments

Delaware County Community College’s KEYS Program

We at the KEYS Program at Delaware County Community College appreciate the opportunity presented to us last Thursday when we met with Rep. Reed and other legislators to discuss our efforts to assist welfare recipients in transitioning to work.

IMGL8644It is important that we help TANF recipients achieve self- sufficiency and not just secure a job. KEYS  believes that this can best be accomplished by a combination of education and skills training. ‘Job first should not be ‘job only’. To truly be independent of the welfare system, a participant must be on a career path with possibility of advancement. Thank you again for the chance to tell our story.

 

Susan Bennett
KEYS Program
Delaware County Community College

Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank- Dora Walmsley, Volunteer Program Coordinator

 Friends,

Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (GPCFB) welcomed Representatives Reed, Wheatley, Gergely, Oberlander, and English to our faculty in Duquesne this past Wednesday. As a Volunteer Program Coordinator for the Food Bank, I had the opportunity to take Representatives, their staff and members of the media on a tour of our 94,000 SF warehouse. One common misconception about GPCFB is the setting in which we work to support our 380+ partner network.Food Bank- Hal and Wheatley Our LEED certified building houses Food Bank staff, whose work includes, procuring the 2.2 million pounds of food we distribute on a monthly basis; development of programs such as CHOP and Recipe Rainbow; partnering with 15 area farms to rescue surplus produce from the fields; coordinating 16 Produce to People distributions throughout our 11 county service area; engaging the community through food and fundraisers; and of course the thousands of volunteers that donate their time on a yearly basis to support all facets of Food Bank operations. Our network, which is as diverse as the 120,000 individuals we serve each month, includes community food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers and many other social service providers that have committed to our mission to eradicate hunger in southwestern Pennsylvania.

In addition to the tour, Representatives had an opportunity to learn about each of the counties we serve through a roundtable discussion. In SWPA, 323,820 people are food insecure. A food insecure household can mean a parent skipping a meal so their child can eat or a senior visiting their local pantry to ensure they have money needed for medication. The delicate safety net, made up of Food Banks, their partner agencies, and government programs such as the Supplement Nutrition Assistant Program, Summer Feeding, and the State Food Purchase Program, ensure the most vulnerable in our service area can meet their basic needs. By doing so, families’ resources are leveraged so they don’t have to make difficult choices between heating their home or providing a healthy meal at dinner time.

 

-Dora Walmsley

Family Promise of Harrisburg Capital Region– Meeting with Staff

Friends,

 

Larry Hawkins, Family Promise Board President, I had the pleasure of meeting with Todd Brysiak and Brianda Freistat representing Rep. Dave Reed’s office on August 21. We had the chance to represent the families experiencing homelessness that we serve in the Harrisburg Capital Region.

We felt the team truly listened to our comments about how low-income folks in our area struggle to meet their needs because of 5 main areas:

1) Transportation. People are not able to find work they are qualified for in places they can actually get to by public transportation.

2)  Access to benefits. Families must transfer benefits between counties. Although this should be a simple process, it typically has taken our families nearly 2 months to transfer benefits. This means they do not have food stamps, child care, cash assistance to save money and meet their needs, or medical benefits for two months. The impact this has is devastating. Families also struggle to find affordable day care. In order to receive subsidized child care, families must show 2 pay stubs. In order to work and have pay stubs, families must have day care. They get stuck in a cycle that doesn’t allow them the opportunity to move forward toward independence.

3) Housing. Working a minimum wage job (round up to $8/hour) would mean a person could afford approximately $430/month for rent at 30% of their income. That doesn’t include taxes. That leaves about $850 left for utilities, water, food, medical expenses, clothes, etc. There are no apartments in the area that people can get at that rate, especially if the family needs more than a 1-bedroom apartment. Therefore, people end up paying 70%+ just for rent. It doesn’t leave much for their other expenses. Families can’t even think about the idea of saving money. The waiting lists for public housing and section 8 are in the thousands in this area. We’ve never seen anyone get a voucher. That is not to say that the list isn’t moving or that the Housing Authority isn’t doing good work – they are, there’s just not enough support for all the people who need it.

4) Health insurance. Families do not always have access to health care benefits. It only takes one small accident to create a snowball effect where the breadwinner has medical expenses to pay, loses a job, and gets behind on rent and other bills within a matter of a few weeks. Even for those families who do not have insurance, medical bills can be expensive. Medicaid is often not enough. This is not an easy problem to solve, and is likely an expensive issue to deal with. We don’t have the easiest answers for this issue, but we know that the current system isn’t covering the need.

5) Job readiness and education. The majority of single moms we have worked with that drop out of high school (which is the majority of single moms) attribute dropping out to teenage pregnancy. There has to be a better way to keep girls in school who have children. We can’t let them slip through the cracks anymore! Even a cleaning job at a hotel requires a GED. Girls are not aware of the negative impact they are making on their life and the lives of their child(ren) by dropping out of high school. Because we see it, we need to ensure they stay in school, have mentors, learn about jobs, and get employment and day care when graduating so that they start off on the right track before high school is even over. We also don’t prepare our high school students, for the working world. From what we have seen with our families, the “soft skills” that employers want to see aren’t being taught. People don’t know them, and not having those soft skills will get someone fired more quickly than lack of knowledge ever will. We would also like to see more technical skills being taught in schools – people should be encouraged to pursue them, and businesses should receive incentives, such as tax credits, for having interns and training to hire them. If students were excited about school and the things they are learning and the jobs they could have, then they would not drop out and would leave high school prepared to work. That will make the single largest difference in the poverty in this area and across the United States. 

 

Again, I want to thank Representative Reed, his staff, and colleagues for taking the time to pursue this issues. I was impressed to learn that not only are they looking to learn about poverty from front-line workers, they are also talking to families in poverty to understand what their struggles are. We can’t continue trying to “fix” things like poverty without understanding it from the eyes of the people who are experiencing it. 

 

-Kristina Marshall, Network Director, Family Promise of Harrisburg Capital Region

 

To Visit the Family Promise of Harrisburg Capital Region’s Website, Click Here!

Barry Denk- Director of Center for Rural PA on Sankey Roundtable

Friends,

House Policy Chairman Dave Reed, along with Representatives Tommy Sankey, Donna Oberlander and Adam Harris participated in a very engaged discussion about rural families living in poverty, and the programs and resources made available with government support at the Clearfield Campus of Lock Haven University this past Tuesday.

Chairman Reed opened the roundtable discussion commenting that the federal and state governments have a longstanding commitment to support our nation’s poor. His desire is to engage the legislature, local government and various community-based service providers in a new discussion about the challenges that low income families face today and the opportunities to reshape programs and services to obtain the best results.

I provided insights on behalf of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania about the state’s rural population. In case you didn’t know, Pennsylvania has the third largest rural population in the nation. After my presentation, participants agreed that the geographic isolation of rural Pennsylvania coupled with the lack of population density often present considerable challenges to low income people trying to better their situation and to providers who struggle with transportation costs to deliver services.

A common theme expressed by service providers was the rigidity of some program eligibility guidelines.  Housing specialists commented that some programs are underused because of unrealistic fair market rent values determined by the federal government. Others said the strict eligibility guidelines can be a disincentive for people to seek higher paying jobs because the extra income may make them ineligible for services, but the higher pay would still not be enough for household and personal expenses.

The service providers suggested that eligibility guidelines be more flexible to factor in regional differences in housing and transportation costs.  There was general agreement that block grants could enable providers to channel resources to priority service needs and opportunities.

Participants acknowledged that the generational cycle of government dependency remains a challenge and that the opportunity to change those mindsets requires a broad based approach.

 

Chairman Reed brought the 2.5 hour long conversation to a close restating his commitment, and that of his colleagues, to continuing the day’s dialog with agencies and advocates so that the policies, programs and accompanying funds from state government work to achieve maximum benefit for the poor and for all Pennsylvanians.

 

-Barry Denk, Director
Center for Rural Pennsylvania

Dr. Zane Gates on Our Discussion at UPMC Altoona- Partnering for Health Services

Friends,

It was a pleasure to meet with Chairmen Reed and the members of the policy committee at UPMC Altoona Partnering for Health Services clinic for the uninsured.  I applaud the committee’s efforts searching for a possible new method to take care of the uninsured that controls cost, increases access, and promotes prevention.  The issue of health care affects us all.  The single mother who works everyday at your favorite diner, counting her tips, deciding either to take her insulin or feed her children doesn’t have an R or D on her chest.  The political implications of her suffering is neither a left or right wing issue, it is a people issue that she must fight though everyday of her life as she pours your coffee with a smile. There are no Democratic or Republican conventions to attend for the mechanic who has a sick child and uses a large chunk of his income making sure his kid is well taken care despite not having insurance to take of his heart condition.

These are the faces of the people who never had a voice around the table of  health care reform.  The only method to solve the uninsured problems is to understand who they are. I know that the policy committee learned that today, and hopefully they understood that if we start with patient care first, all of the problems associated with the cost and politics of health care reform will finally be understood.  The doctors and nurses of Partnering for Health Services are able to focus on care, not the card you carry.  And that focus on care is the only thing that can brings both parties together to ease the suffering of the many and make health care accessible to all whom need it.     

-Dr. Zane Gates
Medical Director, Partnering for Health Services UPMC Altoona