Plan to move Pa. welfare office out of East Liberty is reversed

Agency weighing

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HARRISBURG -- Low-income families served by the state Department of Public Welfare's East Liberty office will not have to travel to Mc-Keesport to receive services, a department spokeswoman said Friday.

The office could remain in its current location at 5947 Penn Ave. if an agreement can be reached with the landlord, or a temporary office that is within 5 miles of that location and accessible by public transportation could serve clients, Kait Gillis said. The department is still planning to have a permanent office in the East Liberty area, she said.

"We are weighing our options as to where we will go," Ms. Gillis said. She said members of the city's delegation in Harrisburg also have suggested other options in East Liberty.

The apparent reversal comes a day after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the state planned to close the East Liberty office and move employees to a McKeesport assistance office, at least temporarily until another East End location could be found.

Advocates for low-income consumers and the union representing caseworkers at the office had decried the move, saying it would be extremely burdensome to clients as Mc-Keesport is less centrally located and harder to reach by public transit.

In Allegheny County, more than 194,000 people are enrolled in Medicaid, about 160,000 receive food stamp benefits and just over 19,000 receive traditional cash assistance welfare, according to the most recent state statistics.

Some DPW services can be handled over the phone or online, but advocacy groups have long complained that understaffing in county assistance offices means many problems can be handled only with an in-person office visit. All new applicants for cash assistance must apply for that benefit in person.

A rally in front of the East Liberty office is still planned for Tuesday, said Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest, which advocates for food stamp clients.

Kathy Jellison, president of Service Employees International Union Local 668, which represents workers in the office, said she was happy to hear that the commonwealth was reconsidering the move.

"It's a shame to expect people who have no money and are applying for benefits to have pay up to seven or eight bucks to get to a different assistance office and they close one that is centralized," she said.

Kate Giammarise: 1-717-787-4254 or or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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