Pa., Ohio issue plea for federal assistance to needy

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Food pantries and other social service agencies in Pennsylvania and Ohio are in such dire times during the global financial crisis that they need a $3.3 billion influx of federal bailout money over the next two years to help people in need, says a report issued yesterday to federal legislators.

Leaders from the Pittsburgh Foundation and fellow community foundations in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo issued a 28-page report saying the cities are seeing surges of 50 percent for mortgage assistance, up to 75 percent for utility payment relief, and up to 70 percent for transportation assistance. Focusing only on the most pressing needs for hunger and transportation relief, the Pittsburgh area alone needs an immediate influx of $15.6 million, the report states.

The report was issued to President-elect Barack Obama's transition team and to members of Congress in hopes Ohio and Pennsylvania relief agencies will receive economic stimulus funds.

It is part of the Neighbor-Aid program the Pittsburgh Foundation and the United Way of Allegheny County launched last month to provide emergency funds to agencies seeing a surge in relief requests while at the same time experiencing a drop in donations, grants and giving.

"The results of our study are deeply worrying and underscore the acute levels of hardship and human suffering that are being felt in our communities as the direct result of the economic crisis," Grant Oliphant, the Pittsburgh Foundation's president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. "We understand the need to bail out financial institutions and businesses, but we also need to focus on those who have lost their jobs, people who are hungry and cold and families who are losing their homes."

The Pittsburgh Foundation hired Washington, D.C., lobbying firm Smith Dawson & Andrews to assist getting the report into the hands of the Obama transition team, as well as the four senators from Pennsylvania and Ohio, and House members from the five cities.

The firm's managing partner, Jim Smith, noted the economic stimulus package initially approved by the House last fall contained provisions on food and housing assistance.

Neighbor-Aid has $850,000 in the till, having raised $150,000 since its launch last month. In forming the initiative, nonprofit leaders reported that service agencies have seen a 73 percent increase in people seeking help for the first time and 100 percent reported that they face budget shortfalls this year.

Like Neighbor-Aid, the report breaks safety net needs into the categories of hunger, shelter, transportation, utilities and child care. Data was collected from the five cities in November and December.

Pittsburgh regional hunger agencies saw an 8.6 percent surge in help requests last fall; in Philadelphia the increase was 20 percent. At the same time, the cost of the food the agencies are buying has increased, while their financial support is down.

In terms of housing, Allegheny County's Department of Human Services saw a 17 percent jump in the 2008 client base for its Hunger and Housing bureau.

Statewide, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency reported a 15 percent increase in mortgage payment aid claims.

Utility costs were up 23 percent in 2008, the report notes, and in child care the list of those applying for low-income subsidies is up 100 percent from 2007.


Tim McNulty can be reached at tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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