Archive for August 30, 2013

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

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Walks Along for Policy Event in Duquesne

Anti-hunger advocates feed legislators policy advice, ideas

By Kate Giammarise / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

 

Living wage jobs.

Longer hours at county assistance offices.

More coordination between state agencies.

Food bank and anti-hunger advocates peppered state legislators with ideas about how to fight poverty at a meeting at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank on Wednesday.

The meeting was part of a statewide initiative by Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, to learn more about poverty. About 13.4 percent of the population in Allegheny County lives in poverty, according to 2011 statistics.

Mr. Reed, head of the GOP-controlled House Majority Policy Committee, heard several comments about difficulties faced by low-wage workers.

“In order to even accept that minimum wage job at 20 hours a week, you need child care,” said Rochelle Jackson, public policy advocate from Just Harvest.

“Living wage is the ultimate goal because that will solve a lot of problems,” she added.

Other comments took aim directly at recent state policy changes.

The asset test implemented for food stamp recipients by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration a year ago has put additional administrative burdens on county caseworkers and hurt families in need, said Caryn Long, executive director of Feeding Pennsylvania.

“We have some real concerns about that,” she said.

Other bureaucratic red tape around many assistance programs is the legacy of a safety net that was built piecemeal over time, rather than in a comprehensive way, said Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest.

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90.5 WESA Pittsburgh NPR News Reports on Roundtable at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

Food Bank Hosts Hunger Discussion with State Lawmakers

Streamlining the assistance process and making it more user-friendly were among the goals laid out when state policymakers and community leaders met Wednesday at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank for a discussion about how to best combat hunger and poverty in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

House Majority Policy Committee Chairman Dave Reed (R-Indiana) said Representative Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) approached him earlier this summer about holding such an event.

Reed expressed “frustration with both parties at the national level seeming to want to talk about everything but a glaring problem that we have in America.” He hopes starting the conversation in Pennsylvania will influence policymakers in other states and in the federal government. “We are one state in a nation of 50, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”

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Pittsburgh Tribune Review on Policy Committee’s Roundtable at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

Duquesne-based food bank to be venue for legislative programs

By Patrick Cloonan

Published: Wednesday, August 28, 2013, 3:46 a.m.

Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne is getting a lot of attention this week.

On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, will take a tour of the facility and hold a brief meeting with food bank officials.

Today at 9:30 a.m., the state House Majority Policy Committee is scheduled to join two members of the House minority party caucus at two events dealing with issues of hunger and food security for low-income Pennsylvanians.

Committee chairman Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said participants will include Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak, who represents Duquesne, and Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Pittsburgh, co-chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Hunger Caucus with Sen. Mike Brubaker, R-Lancaster County.

The caucus has more than 80 members, including Gergely; Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg; and Sens. Jay Costa Jr., D-Forest Hills, and Timothy Solobay, D-Canonsburg.

Reed said there will be a volunteer opportunity at the food bank, followed by a discussion that will be part of an initiative “Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty.”

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Jeff Coleman: Op-Ed on Policy Committee’s Endeavors

A half-century later, who’s winning and losing The War on Poverty: Jeff Coleman

 

Every few months a kind reporter from a respected news outlet calls me to respond to some seemingly left-field, verbal smugness by a fellow conservative about poor people.

For the most part, I explain that it was probably just an awkwardly expressed difference in the way we believe poverty should be confronted. The issue is tinder for talk radio and scares away far too many politicians who genuinely care, but are skeptical of rotary-phone era government programs.

January 8, 2014 will mark 50 years to the day that President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America,” forcefully arguing that a major national investment was needed to honor the promise of civil rights.

Government would help those willing to train for jobs, hone skills, continue education, and get respectable housing and even find employment in one of the new, anti-poverty agencies and departments. From that moment until today, with few interruptions, this total war to erase poverty from the American story would be funded with an open checkbook.

 

To read more of Jeff Coleman’s Op-Ed in the Patriot News… Click Here

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!

Pittsburgh Post Gazette on Empowering Opportunities Initiative

Pennsylvania Republican’s poverty mission draws praise, skeptics

Republican state rep to travel across the commonwealth

By Kate Giammarise / Post Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG — A Republican state representative is on a mission to learn more about poverty in Pennsylvania, despite skepticism from within his own party, Democrats and some advocates of the poor.

“Contrary to popular opinion, poverty is not confined to one region of the state. And it is not confined to one demographic,” said Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, announcing his initiative last month in the Capitol.

Mr. Reed, who chairs the GOP-controlled House Majority Policy Committee, said he aims to assess government’s role in fighting poverty, and intends to cross the state to learn what poverty looks like in urban, suburban and rural settings.

He’ll be in Pittsburgh this month.

….

 

To Read More from the Post Gazette…Click Here

Rep. Reed on the Lincoln Radio Journal with Lowman Henry

Air Date: 2013-07-25 – Program # 13-30

(July 27, 2013 – August 2, 2013) This week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Eric Boehm and Melissa Daniels have news headlines from www.paindependent.com; Lowman Henry talks with State Representative Dave Reed (R-Indiana County) about a legislative initiative to combat poverty in Pennsylvania; Frank Gamrat and Eric Montarti have an Allegheny Institute Report on teacher strikes; And, Jennifer Stefano of Americans for Prosperity says high unemployment is a key problem for young African Americans on her Stefano Speaks! commentary.

 

To Listen to the Lincoln Radio Journal Program…  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

WJACTV- Rural Poverty Affecting More Local Residents

Updated: Wednesday, August 7 2013, 12:56 PM

Fifteen percent of Clearfield County residents live in poverty

By Marc Stempka

CLEARFIELD, Pa. — Officials across Pennsylvania are working to battle a problem that has caught the attention of leaders in Harrisburg: Too many Pennsylvania residents are living in poverty, and many are in rural communities.

Rep. Tommy Sankey (R-Clearfield) hosted Tuesday’s forum about rural poverty in Clearfield County. Sankey was joined by members of the Pennsylvania House Majority Policy Committee and local community groups, working as part of a state-wide effort to gather information about residents living in poverty.

The forum was part of a larger committee effort called “Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty,” that has worked to identify the challenges faced by families that may be prevented from rising out of poverty in different areas across the state.

Data from the United States Department of Health showed that a family of four living on less than $23,000 a year qualifies that family to be considered living in poverty.

In Clearfield County, statistics from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania showed that 15 percent of all county residents live in poverty. That includes 25 percent of the county’s children.

“You see it, you see it every day along state roads,” Sankey said. “[People] go to work, try to go to church, but just can’t get ahead.”

To Read More From WJACTV and Watch the Video Clip…  Click Here