Access to Government Benefits

barbed wire: a metaphor for barriers to government benefitsPoverty is the driving cause of food insecurity and hunger, which take an enormous toll on people’s lives and our communities. Research shows that more than half of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will face poverty for at least a year of their lives. This is typically due to a sudden change in life’s circumstances and a lack of family wealth.

It is critical that in these times people are not forced to rely on charity. Charity helps, but it can’t come close to meeting the needs of the roughly 43 million Americans – including 13% of Allegheny County residents, more than 1/3 of them children and seniors – who are currently living in poverty.

Only government programs have the power and reach to help them afford basic things like food, medical care, and housing until they are back on their feet. These programs are the safety net when people fall. They ensure a humane standard of living in this country and also provide necessary investments in under-served communities.

For years, Just Harvest has been helping Allegheny County residents understand their rights and overcome the obstacles they run into when applying for government benefits that reduce hunger and poverty – food stamps as well as cash assistance, medical benefits, child care, and LIHEAP – through Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services County Assistance Offices.

Just Harvest and its members also advocate statewide and nationally for a more compassionate government benefits (or “welfare”) system because we believe that every person has the right to a dignified life, a voice in the decisions that affect them, and a clear path to self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, the existing welfare system is often humiliating, frustrating, and unfair. Due to insufficient funding, poor implementation and administrative inefficiency, or misguided policies, many eligible people are denied, delayed, or deterred from receiving the public aid they need.

Through one-on-one client support and advocacy we strive to eliminate unnecessary barriers to benefits.

We also aim to improve the quality of public safety net programs like cash assistance (TANF), nutrition assistance (SNAP/food stamps), home heating assistance (LIHEAP) and others by:

  • lobbying for more sensible, compassionate, and fair government assistance policies at the federal and state level;
  • holding policy-makers and government agencies directly accountable to assistance clients;
  • educating the public about the realities of the welfare system; and
  • working to improve DHS customer service and to make high-quality service more accessible.