Anti-hunger advocates feed legislators policy advice, ideas


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Living wage jobs.

Longer hours at county assistance offices.

More coordination between state agencies.

State representatives tour Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

State representatives JaKe Wheatley and Dave Reed tour the Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne. (Video by Nate Guidry; 8/29/2013)

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.

PG VIDEO

"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.

"The system as it's constructed is built upon the distrust of people in need," Mr. Regal said. "It's a system that's constructed to purge out the 'undeserving' in whatever category."

He also said the current system is confusing to navigate -- a separate program for free and reduced school lunches, the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program, and so on.

"If you have a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old, you have to fill out two applications, you need to deal with two different departments, you have two different sets of paperwork," he said.

Not every comment was critical, however.

Suzanne McDevitt, an associate professor of social work at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, thanked the legislators for maintaining the State Food Purchase Program, which provides funds to a statewide network of food pantries, through the recession.

Others in attendance included Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District; Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak; Rep. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion; and Rep. Hal English, R-Hampton.

Mr. Reed and other representatives have had several meetings around the state, including an Altoona-area clinic that targets patients who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to purchase their own insurance, and a meeting in Clearfield County about rural poverty and access to transportation and affordable housing.

region - state

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise. First Published August 29, 2013 4:00 AM


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