You are browsing the archive for poverty.

Foodstamp Cuts Impact Families and Children in Every PA County

7:48 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

A major funding cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) took effect November 1, impacting 1.8 million Pennsylvanians.

SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger and a powerful tool to help keep families out of poverty. Benefits are modest, offering many Pennsylvania families a crucial bridge in this slow economic recovery.

The November 1 cut is the result of an expiring provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that temporarily boosted SNAP to strengthen the economy and ease hardship in the wake of the recession. The cut totals $5 billion nationwide for the remaining months of the federal fiscal year (November 2013-September 2014), including $183 million in Pennsylvania.

Nearly 66 cents of every dollar cut in Pennsylvania ($120 million) will reduce the benefits of households with children. Another 37 cents out of every dollar cut ($68 million) will reduce benefits for Pennsylvanians who are elderly or living with disabilities. Click here or on the map below to view how many people, households, and children are impacted by the cut to SNAP in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

PA County Map

In addition to helping to feed hungry families, SNAP is one of the fastest, most effective ways to spur the economy. Every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity. Benefits boost demand for farm produce, helping to keep our nation’s farms strong.

The cuts may force some Pennsylvanians to choose between food and other priorities. Ruth Vesa, a 78-year-old widow in Pittsburgh, said in August when the cuts were announced: “I’m very thankful for the food stamp program because it enables me to have good food to eat and not be worried about my medical prescriptions. Otherwise I would have to make a choice. Any cuts to the program would be hurtful to me personally.”

For a family of three, the cut will likely mean a reduction of $29 a month — $319 for the remaining 11 months of the fiscal year. This is a serious loss for families whose benefits, after this cut, will average less than $1.40 per person per meal. It is the equivalent of taking away 21 meals per month for a family of four or 16 meals for a family of three.

That’s the bad news. The even worse news is that additional cuts to SNAP could be on the way. In September, the U.S. House narrowly approved legislation that would cut $39 billion in SNAP funding over the next decade. The Senate has not taken up the bill.

If enacted, a cut that large would deny SNAP to approximately 3.8 million low-income people in 2014 and to an average of nearly 3 million people each year over the coming decade, according to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates. Those who would be thrown off the program include many low-income children, seniors, and families that work for low wages.

Death of an Adjunct

6:57 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Duquesne Campus

After 25 years of service to Duquesne Universty, an adjunct died in poverty.

Appearing earlier this month on a radio program in Pittsburgh with labor historian Charles McCollester, I heard for the first time the story of Margaret Mary Vojtko, a 25-year adjunct faculty member at Duquesne University who died recently in poverty at the age of 83.

Two and a half years ago, the Keystone Research Center released the most comprehensive state report in the United States on the rising use of adjunct faculty at colleges and universities. The numbers were sobering. Even if they cobbled together a full-time (10 courses per year) load at multiple institutions, adjunct community college faculty in Pennsylvania earned only about $25,000 annually. Contingent faculty members and instructors taught 42% of the courses at all public colleges and universities in Pennsylvania (versus 49% nationally). Most part-time/adjunct faculty members in Pennsylvania public higher education received no health or pension benefits.

Given cuts in state funding for higher education since we wrote our report, the situation is surely worse today in Pennsylvania.

How do we avoid a future in which a majority of higher education faculty earn less than a “quality” wage — a wage sufficient to give teachers time to prepare lessons, establish office hours, and provide feedback that increases student learning?

It would help if we honored the rights of part-time/contingent faculty to join a union — starting, for example, at Margaret Mary’s Duquesne. One game-changing option would give all part-time and contingent faculty at publicly funded Pennsylvania higher education institutions the freedom to form a single statewide local union. This would enable part-time and contingent faculty to negotiate statewide wage and benefit standards and working conditions consistent with teaching excellence. (This type of geographically based union that lifts up low wages and benefits in service industries that can’t relocate — because they have to be near their “customers” — is exactly what is needed to rebuild the middle class generally in Pennsylvania and the United States. See my earlier posts on fast food workers and on the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”)

State lawmakers also need to develop — and fund — a long-term plan for paying all higher education teachers a “quality wage.” In a world both moral and rational, this could be part of a broader plan that also makes post-secondary education affordable again for students, and marries online and in-person education to lower costs while maintaining quality.

This approach starts with values — the outcomes we want for students, faculty, and taxpayers — and then uses technology, collective problem-solving, and social negotiation to create a world that honors those values. Imagine the possibilities.

The story of Margaret Mary is a sad reminder that all public policy discussion should start from values — the world we want to create and, unfortunately, the world we want to avoid.

Read the rest of this entry →

Nearly 1.8 Million in PA Will See Food Assistance Cut

10:11 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

SNAP helps nearly 1 in 3 U.S. children get enough to eat. All of them will see their benefits cut in November.Nutrition assistance is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger and a powerful tool to help keep families out of poverty. Come November, this critical federal assistance will be cut, making it that much more difficult for 1.8 million Pennsylvanians to put food on the table for themselves and their families.

The November cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as food stamps, will impact all of the more than 47 million Americans, including 22 million children, who receive benefits. It will likely amount to a reduction of $29 a month in benefits for a family of three — $319 in all through September 2014. This is a serious loss for families whose benefits, after this cut, will average less than $1.40 per person per meal.

To put the cut in some perspective, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates it will equal out to 21 lost meals per month for a family of four or 16 lost meals per month for a family of three.

A majority of those who receive SNAP benefits are children and the elderly, for whom food assistance is essential. SNAP helps nearly one in three children in the U.S. get enough to eat. All 22 million of them will see their benefits cut in November.

Elderly Pennsylvanians will also be affected. People like Ruth Vesa, a 78-year-old widow in Pittsburgh and Just Harvest client, who said: “I’m very thankful for the food stamp program because it enables me to have good food to eat and not be worried about my medical prescriptions. Otherwise I would have to make a choice. Any cuts to the program would be hurtful to me personally.”

In addition to helping to feed hungry families, SNAP is one of the fastest, most effective ways to spur the economy. Every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity. Benefits boost demand for farm produce, helping to keep our nation’s farms strong.

So why is it being cut? The cut is the result of an expiring provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that temporarily boosted SNAP benefits to strengthen the economy and ease hardship in the wake of the recession. This small increase has been a lifeline for many Pennsylvanians, a majority of whom work but earn low wages. It has allowed them to stay afloat during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Even though the economy is still weak and families are still struggling, Congress has not acted to extend the modest increase in nutrition assistance beyond November. In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives could vote on cutting the program by $20 billion or more in the coming weeks. If enacted, such cuts could leave many families and their children without assistance to put food on the table when they need it most.

That is the wrong path for the wellbeing of our nation, the health of our families, and the growth of our economy.

Diversion Politics and Factual Errors with ‘Americans for a Tiny Sliver of Rich People’

11:32 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

SNAP - Foodstamps

The latest part of the safety net under Koch attack.

Jennifer Stefano, the Pennsylvania director of Americans for Prosperity, published an op-ed in the Harrisburg Patriot-News Friday — the latest salvo in an organized right-wing assault on nutrition assistance and other safety net spending.

The op-ed claims that the number of Americans who receive some kind of subsidized food assistance is at more than 101 million and “has surpassed the number of full-time private-sector workers in our country.” Actually, there are 114 million private-sector workers in the United States, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data for June 2013, but who’s counting.

Americans for Prosperity is a conservative advocacy group funded in part by the Koch Brothers. It is the 1% looking out for the interests of the 1%.

As I noted, Jennifer Stefano’s op-ed is part of a larger campaign to cut safety net spending. Food stamp spending in the current slow economy has temporarily risen to about 0.5% of GDP, from about 0.33% of GDP in the early 1980s recession. Of course, that recession was much shorter and shallower nationally than the recent Great Recession.

Today food assistance remains well targeted: 85% of households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, have gross incomes below the poverty line; 98.5% have disposable (or “net”) incomes below the poverty line. SNAP provides only $1.50 per person per meal and is scheduled to drop to $1.30 per person per meal in November. (Stefano has nothing to say about the preservation of farm subsidies for agribusiness — the most generous “food program” in the United States.)

Stefano presents the temporary growth in food assistance as a “kitchen table” issue. Let’s put it in perspective. Another kitchen table issue is the dramatic decline in the share of the economic pie going to the vast 99% of Americans — because the share going to the top 1% has risen by about 10 percentage points, The temporary increase in food stamps spending is thus about 1/50 the size of the not-so-temporary increase in the share of income going to the Koch Brothers and, I’m guessing, other funders of Americans for Prosperity.

Stefano’s piece is part of a well-oiled effort to distract middle-class families from the real cause of their economic struggles. When you look at the facts, that cause is not rising taxes or spending on social programs. It’s the rise in economic inequality (and, to a lesser degree, the fall in taxes paid by the more affluent).

Here’s hoping that Pennsylvanians and Americans will keep their eyes on the ball and not fall for the obfuscations of groups like Stefano’s.

Read the rest of this entry →

ALEC Policies Sell ‘Snake Oil to the States’

2:11 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

Would billionaires spend millions to influence your  vote if it had no value?

Would billionaires spend millions to influence your vote if it had no value

By Sharon Ward, Third and States

Three national organizations offered a scathing criticism of policies endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, in a conference call with reporters last week. Their findings strike a stake in the heart of ALEC claims that its view of the world — lower taxes, fewer workplace protections, and diminished public investments — is good for the public.

Pennsylvania state lawmakers who look to ALEC for guidance on economic policy should stand up and take notice.

Iowa Policy Project research director Peter Fisher discussed a recent report he co-authored with researchers from Good Jobs First, concluding that the tax, budget, and economic prescriptions put forth by ALEC simply don’t work.

Selling Snake Oil to the States took a look at ALEC’s annual Rich States, Poor States report, which ranks states based on their “economic outlooks” as defined by ALEC. The factors should come as no surprise: states with low taxes and right-to-work laws rank high by ALEC; those with progressive taxes, corporate income taxes, and worker protections rank far behind.

Fisher compared the ALEC rankings with actual state performance on real economic indicators over a four-year period. Do ALEC’s policy prescriptions improve state economies? The answer is no.

Between 2007 and 2011, researchers found no relationship between a high ALEC ranking and employment. They did find a correlation on personal incomes and poverty rates among states ranked high by ALEC, but it was a negative one — the better a state fared on the ALEC scale, the worse it did in real life. As Fisher said during the conference call:

It should be hardly surprising that policies to keep wages low have the effect of lowering the state’s income. … The ALEC policy prescriptions for states will not lead to growth and prosperity but to further inequality and lower incomes.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities examined sweeping tax and budget policies that ALEC is currently lobbying for in the states. The policies largely encompass deep tax cuts for wealthy individuals, investors, and corporations that will leave middle- and lower-income families paying more.

Both reports note that the ALEC agenda promotes low wage growth for families, fewer workplace protections, and strategies to starve public investments in education, health care, and other priorities — all of which reputable economists agree are critical to job creation and economic growth.

It is an article of faith among Pennsylvania lawmakers that ALEC policies are good for the economy. These reports provide clear and convincing evidence to the contrary: the arguments that the ALEC agenda are good for real people are nothing but snake oil. The policies are good for the businesses that pour millions into ALEC to promote this agenda.

Governor Tom Corbett has hidden large expensive new tax cuts to profitable corporations in his budget proposal released this month. This and other ALEC agenda items won’t create jobs, but they will lead to greater inequality, slower income growth, and continued starvation of our public schools, transit systems, and other priorities.
Read the rest of this entry →

Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind

8:01 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Michael Wood, Third and State

Federal health care reform is moving forward thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year — and it is a great deal for Pennsylvania. Unless the state decides to “opt out,” Medicaid coverage will be expanded to include many Pennsylvanians who are uninsured.

One group that will benefit immediately are parents with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level ($25,390 for a family of three). The benefits don’t end there: others who don’t receive health coverage through their work will be able to buy insurance on a competitive health marketplace or exchange — making coverage more affordable.

However, if Governor Corbett prevents the Medicaid expansion, it will create a coverage gap for families between 46% and 100% of poverty, as the chart below shows (click on it for a larger view).

Those families between 46% and 100% of poverty earn too much to qualify for Medicaid (for a family of three, this means earning over $8,781 but less than the federal poverty line of $19,090). These families won’t receive Medicaid coverage, and they won’t receive subsidies to buy health coverage.

We all benefit when more people have health coverage. Let’s make the right decision in Pennsylvania and expand Medicaid coverage.

Pa. Budget: Failing to Invest in a Stronger State Economy

7:38 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Despite ending the 2011-12 fiscal year with a $649 million fund balance, Pennsylvania fails to make the investments essential to building a strong economy or to reverse a recent trend where job growth in the commonwealth has lagged behind other states.

So concludes the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center analysis of the enacted 2012-13 state budget, which was released Friday.

In the final budget, the General Assembly restores some of the cuts proposed by Governor Tom Corbett, while leaving intact a 10% cut to human services and deep cuts to public schools and higher education made in 2011. The budget continues to shift costs to local governments and taxpayers, while adding new tax breaks for businesses.

The spending plan, at $27.656 billion, is $517 million more than the Governor’s February proposal but remains below budgeted 2008-09 levels, despite four years of recession-driven increases in demand for services. The largest cut in this budget comes from the elimination of the General Assistance Program, which provides a temporary monthly benefit to 68,887 Pennsylvanians who are sick, disabled or escaping an abuser. It ends next month

Cuts to education enacted last year, meanwhile, have diminished the quality of instruction in our poorest school districts and resulted in the loss of 14,000 jobs in 2011.

The budget squeezes money out of human services, education and General Assistance at the same time it expands and creates new tax credits and continues the ongoing phase-out of the capital stock and franchise tax. This is part of a decade-long pattern that will see the commonwealth spending $2.4 billion on corporate tax breaks in the new budget. That amount has tripled over the last 10 years and does not count the hundreds of millions of dollars lost annually to corporate tax loopholes. Most of these tax breaks primarily benefit the largest corporations and come with no commitment to create jobs.

As the economy continues to recover, Pennsylvania will need to make public investments to build a strong economy and make Pennsylvania a place where families will want to live. This budget takes a small step in that direction, but falls well short of where we need to be.

Check out the center’s budget analysis for more.

PA Starts New Fiscal Year with $400 Million in the Bank

1:12 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Michael Wood, Third and State

After a less than stellar May, General Fund tax collections bounced back strongly in June — exceeding estimate by $170 million, or 6.5%. This narrowed the 2011-12 revenue shortfall to $163 million, or less than 1% of total estimated collections for the year.

As a result, the state ended the year in a much better fiscal situation than projected back in February, when Governor Tom Corbett released his budget plan. Counting the dollars the state had in the bank, Pennsylvania actually started the fiscal year with a $400 million fund balance.

The recently enacted budget acknowledged this but only to a point. The Legislature increased General Fund spending in 2012-13 by $655 million from the Governor’s  proposal — restoring funding in a number of important areas: higher education, accountability block grants, and half of the 20% cut proposed for county services included in the now-rejected Human Services Development Block Grant. Lawmakers also found funding for another round of business tax breaks.

However, June collections indicate more could have been done — for General Assistance recipients, environmental programs, and child care. Lawmakers also passed on setting aside any of the additional revenue in the Rainy Day Fund.

Click here for the Tale of the Tape.

The revenue surplus in June was led by corporate tax collections — coming in $180 million higher than the monthly target, or 38%. After falling short of estimates for seven of the first eight months of the fiscal year, corporate taxes ended June with a small surplus of $39 million, or 0.8%.

Personal income tax collections were also surpassed estimate in June by $26 million, or 2.7%. For the fiscal year, PIT collections were $199 million, or 1.8%, below expectations — not a surprise given the slower-than-expected decrease in the unemployment rate and general sluggishness in the economy.

Sales tax receipts were $46 million, or 5.5%, lower than expected in June. This pushed yearly sales tax collections slightly below estimate ($16 million, or 0.2%).

All major categories of taxes grew in 2011-12. In total, they exceeded 2010-11 levels by $688 million, or 2.6%.

The Human Cost of Eliminating General Assistance in Pennsylvania

1:37 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Kate Atkins, Third and State

Since the Great Depression, Pennsylvania has had a General Assistance (GA) program — a small cash benefit that serves as a bridge to self-sufficiency for the temporarily disabled and for victims of domestic violence and addicts seeking help to turn their lives around.

A dollar bill cut in half.

Photo: Images of Money / Flickr

Since the Great Depression. Until late last month when state lawmakers adopted a new budget.

That budget will end Pennsylvania’s modest benefit for 68,000 people, effective August 1. At $205 per month, nobody was getting rich from the program. Here is a sample of who is using General Assistance and why:

* A disabled military veteran in Lancaster County, who applied for General Assistance to get him through until his Social Security disability benefits were approved.

A waitress in her 50s who was diagnosed with breast cancer and used General Assistance when she could not work as she was receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment. After about nine months, she was able to return to work.

Good Samaritans who are caring for children not related to them — perhaps children of a close friend of neighbor. Many of these children are now likely to end up in the foster care system.

A very focused group of young women I saw at a recent rally in Delaware County, who chanted: “Pennsylvania, we need GA. We’re in treatment, we need to stay!”

A former addict whose recovery was aided by General Assistance who is now employed in a job that allows him to pay taxes, support his daughter, and help others struggling with addiction.

“I didn’t need a couple days of rehab; I needed long-term care,” recalled Jake Fleming, care manager for NorthEast Treatment Centers and a former addict. “General assistance saved my life.”

The state ended the year with a $649 million surplus, more than enough to preserve the General Assistance program. Instead, the legislature chose to end the program, likely increasing the state’s overall spending as people facing very challenging life circumstances end up in emergency rooms, prisons, and inpatient mental health facilities.

As the changes go into effect August 1, this promises to be a hard summer for tens of thousands of people.

Piecing Together the PA Budget Framework

2:26 pm in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

(photo: Dbenbenn / wikimedia)

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Some details emerged Thursday about the state budget framework unveiled midweek by Governor Tom Corbett and legislative leaders, but questions still remain. More details may be available later today when budget spreadsheets are released.

Funding for county human services is one area that appears to be in flux, as some House Republicans continue to voice concerns about a plan to block grant and cut that funding.

A number of GOP House lawmakers want to add more dollars for the mental health and mental disability programs in that mix, said [Rep. Mario] Scavello.

A Senate-approved bill restores half of the $168 million spending cut for the human services programs initially proposed by Mr. Corbett. House members would like to restore even more money but have to balance that with cuts elsewhere, he added.

Although the statewide association representing county commissioners recently agreed to a two-year phase-in for the block grant, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-18, Bensalem, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, said he’s trying to stop the block grant altogether and substitute a pilot program for several counties instead …

The seven programs considered for a block grant include community mental health and mental disability services, the human services development fund, homeless assistance, child welfare grants, the Behavorial Health Services Initiative and Act 152 drug and alcohol treatment programs.

While there is some hope for restoring more funds to county human services, one area that appeared not to make the cut is the state’s General Assistance Program. The governor proposed — and legislative leaders appear to have agreed to — eliminating this modest benefit for temporarily disabled adults, which will have a devastating on nearly 70,000 Pennsylvanians striving to avoid homelessness and build a better life for themselves.

One item unlikely to survive, despite protests from church groups and advocates for the poor, is the so-called general assistance program that provides cash benefits to nearly 70,000 temporarily disabled adults. Corbett proposed eliminating the funding, and legislative leaders did not seek to restore it.

Brenda Freeman of West Philadelphia, who has peripheral edema, which swells tissues in her arms and legs, said that program had been “my only income.” Freeman, 38, whose condition makes it very difficult to stand or sit for long periods and who telephoned The Inquirer to protest the cut, said: “What am I going to have to do — eat out of a trash can?”

“There still is a chance to do something,” she said. “I’m hoping that they do the right thing.”

Pennsylvania’s public schools and universities are likely to see no change in their funding, after sustaining deep cuts in the budget enacted last year.

On Thursday afternoon, the House Appropriations Committee approved funding bills for the four state-related universities as well as the Veterinary School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Though he stopped short of confirming that the schools — Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities and the University of Pittsburgh — would be flat-funded at current levels, “we are working toward that idea,” said Drew Crompton, the chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.

The four schools were targeted for 30 percent cuts in Corbett’s $27.14 billion budget proposal unveiled in February. An amended version of the budget approved by the Senate this spring would fund at current levels: Penn State at $227 million; Temple at $139 million; Lincoln at $11 million and the University of Pittsburgh at $136 million.

Crompton said budget negotiators are moving in a similar direction with the state system schools … The schools would be maintained at their current level of $412 million.

Finally, multiple newspapers are reporting that Accountability Block Grants, which support full-day kindergarten and other early childhood programs, will be restored to $100 million after the governor proposed eliminating them. More funding will likely be approved for distressed schools and to expand the state Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, which allows businesses to donate to private school scholarships and recover most, if not all, of their contribution through tax benefits.

Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, said negotiators told him the tentative agreement includes $25 million to expand the current Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which is currently funded at $75 million. An additional $50 million would be available to students who attend a school among the state’s lowest-achieving 15 percent.