Client Empowerment

Three Just Harvest clients with Rep. John Lewis on a June 2015 lobbying trip to protect SNAP/food stamp funding

Three Just Harvest clients with Rep. John Lewis on a June 2015 lobbying trip to protect federal food stamp funding.

The government safety net is a complex maze of confusing programs, rules, and departments. The first steps to ending poverty and hunger are:

  • expanding awareness of and participation in government assistance programs,
  • educating people about their rights in these programs, and
  • eliminating barriers to safety net programs.

We also enable individuals and communities:

  • to lobby their legislators for better funding and more sensible regulations that would strengthen government assistance programs, and
  • to get engaged in the political processes that shape dozens of other policies and programs related to hunger and poverty at all levels of government.

The federal and state government assistance programs we focus on are:

Welfare:

State and federal welfare programs are important safety nets for low-income families. Many of these programs are administered by Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (formerly the Dept. of Public Welfare), and involve difficult applications and complicated requirements. Just Harvest works to educate low-income people about the welfare system, their rights and responsibilities, and how to get the benefits they are entitled to. Our efforts help get eligible people enrolled and receiving the benefits they need.

Food Stamps:

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or “food stamps”) is one of the most important safeguards against hunger and extreme poverty in America. Roughly one in seven Americans receive food stamp benefits, but unfortunately the program is not reaching everyone who needs it. In Pennsylvania, an estimated 25% of eligible people do not receive benefits (almost half a million people). We work through speaking engagements, conferences, workshops, media outlets, community outreach, and application assistance to let people know about the program, the benefits they are entitled to, and the rights and responsibilities that come with participation.

Child Nutrition:

Child nutrition programs have improved in recent years, including the implementation of an after school supper program in Pennsylvania (one of only seven states with this type of program, thanks to us and our partners). However, many low-income families don’t know about all the services available. Through informational meetings, brochures, and media outlets, Just Harvest is getting the word out about how to keep kids well fed.

Low-Income Tax Credits:

Many eligible workers do not file for valuable tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Care Tax Credits, and Pennsylvania Tax Forgiveness. The EITC alone is worth up to $5,657 and can increase a family’s income by as much as 45%. In 2012, the EITC brought over $157 million to 78,746 Allegheny County families. As a lead partner in the United Way of Allegheny County’s Money in Your Pocket Coalition, Just Harvest’s free IRS-certified income tax preparation service for low-income households is now one of the largest in the entire state.

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