Pennsylvania House Bill 934 would boost education as a path out of poverty

woman graduate holding her childAn important bill is moving through the Pennsylvania legislature. It would help single mothers and college students* in need complete their education as a path out of poverty.

The “KEYS bill” (House Bill 934) would redesign the Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) program. KEYS allows recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps) to count their education hours towards the work requirements of the TANF and SNAP programs.

TANF recipients are almost always single mothers, and work requirements for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependent (ABAWD) recipients of SNAP are due to be reinstated this fall. [Oct. 15 NOTE: Now due to be in place Mar. 1, 2016.] (The federal government had suspended this requirement after the 2008 recession.)

H.B. 934 would double to 24 months the amount of time these individuals can count education towards their TANF and SNAP work requirements. This change will allow them to complete a two-year associate degree at any of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges, and get better employment as a result.

Under current law, these recipients can only use the KEYS program for one year. H.B. 934 would double this to 24 months, which will likely drastically reduce the large number of program drop-outs.

KEYS is an incredibly effective anti-poverty program. Its graduates earn on average almost $15 per hour, compared to only $8 an hour for all of the state’s other welfare-to-work programs.

H.B. 934 is a sensible, bipartisan policy whose time has come.

Just Harvest helped get the KEYS program created  in 2005, during Gov. Rendell’s administration, to help address some of the injustices wrought by national welfare “reform” in 1996.

Over the past year, Just Harvest and its allies have worked with Republican leader Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana County) to update our state’s welfare policies to better address poverty in PA. Reed’s leadership, along with Rep. Jim Christiana (R–Beaver and Washington Counties), has played a huge role in getting new KEYS legislation:

Under current law, students are only allowed to use the KEYS program for one year, which often leads to a large number of drop-outs. We need to do everything we can to transition people into lives of self-sustainability – recognizing that the best anti-poverty program is a job.”

* While adult students are typically prohibited from receiving food stamps, they can if they initiated their education plan through they KEYS program.

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