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