News Release: Just Harvest and SEIU Local 668 Rally to Save the Greater Pittsburgh East County Assistance Office

Rallies Planned at Pittsburgh CAO Headquarters and Three Local CAOs

PITTSBURGH, PA (March 28, 2014) – The Department of Public Welfare (DPW) plans to close the Greater Pittsburgh East County Assistance Office (CAO) and relocate its workers to McKeesport, PA, creating considerable hardship for the working families the CAO serves. SEIU Local 668, the union representing the majority of its employees, and Just Harvest, an anti-poverty, anti-hunger nonprofit to organize rallies on Tuesday, April 1 at 12:00 noon to demand DPW stop the closure of the CAO.

“The closing of the Greater Pittsburgh East CAO is of grave concern to our members,” said Kathy Jellison, President of SEIU Local 668. “This move will not cost any of our members their jobs, but it will exact a significant toll on those whom they are committed to serving – struggling families in Pennsylvania.”

The rallies will take place outside of the County Assistance Office Headquarters and the Greater Pittsburgh East CAO, as well as Alle-Kiski District CAO and Southeast District CAO, and will be attended by concerned residents, SEIU Local 668 members, and advocates from Just Harvest. Just Harvest has drawn attention to the impact of various DPW management decisions on struggling families throughout the State.

“Low-income, elderly, and disabled Pennsylvanians have already been experiencing multiple barriers to benefits due to insufficient DPW staffing and resources – like phones not getting answered, calls not being returned, and important documents being lost,” said Rochelle Jackson, public policy advocate for Just Harvest.

“The disruption and loss of benefits these customer service issues cause is systemic. Now on top of all that, DPW is closing one of the busiest offices in Allegheny County. An estimated 20,000 residents from two dozen neighborhoods will now have to go to even greater lengths to get the help they need. Where is the concern for the clients?”

Unlike the Greater Pittsburgh East CAO, the CAO in McKeesport is not easily accessible via public transportation. Additionally, the Greater Pittsburgh East CAO is within walking distance of several other social services agencies and organizations, such as the East End Cooperative Ministry’s Emergency Men’s Shelter and the Center for Victims of Domestic Violence. Relocating the work creates an additional hardship for those families without cars.

Homewood resident Raqueeb Bey was at the Greater Pittsburgh East office to apply for LIHEAP when she heard the news about the closure from Just Harvest.

“I was shocked,” said Ms. Bey, a tax preparer who also receives SNAP/food stamps benefits and medical assistance. “It’s going to be a hardship for lots of families. Just getting to the McKeesport office one-way would take at least two buses, cost $4.75 to $7.25, and take at least an hour, assuming the buses are running on time. I simply can’t afford that. The residents of East Liberty shouldn’t have to go so far to get the help they need.”

In addition to the rallies in Pittsburgh, members from CAOs in Philadelphia will stand in solidarity with their colleagues in Pittsburgh between 12 noon and 1:00 pm.

Read MoreAbout the rallies on Tuesday, April 1. 

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