Legislator unveiling report on Pa. poverty

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HARRISBURG -- A Republican state representative on a mission to learn more about poverty in Pennsylvania will unveil some of his findings today.

Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, who chairs the GOP-controlled House Majority Policy Committee, will discuss his report at a Harrisburg homeless shelter.

Mr. Reed and his staff spent months researching the project. They visited the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank in August with several other legislators and heard from anti-hunger activists who made a number of suggestions.

The report identifies 13 barriers that can trap a person in poverty, such as lack of family support, not having affordable child care, poor economic conditions, not having health care, a criminal record, lack of financial literacy skills, inadequate education, homelessness, mental health problems, hunger, substance abuse, lack of transportation, and the so-called "benefits cliff" -- when a small increase in pay could cause a person to lose vital government assistance.

In Pennsylvania, some 13.1 percent of residents live in poverty, about 1.6 million people.

The preliminary report does not make explicit legislative recommendations but states Mr. Reed and the policy committee hope to focus on improving the outcomes of assistance programs and benefits that aid work, and essentials like food, shelter and education.

Mr. Reed's announcement last year that he intended to target poverty as a problem drew sharp criticism from at least one of his fellow House Republicans, and some advocacy groups were initially skeptical of his intentions.

However, the group's preliminary findings seem to be garnering positive reviews.

Joe Ostrander, a spokesman for the Community Action Association of Pennsylvania, who worked with Mr. Reed's office, said he was pleased the report identified a past criminal record as a barrier to employment and self-sufficiency and the Catch-22 of the benefits cliff, particularly for people who need subsidized child care and work in low-wage jobs.

"I like the fact that he doesn't blame people for being poor," Mr. Ostrander said.

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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