Home Lawmakers Pennsylvania lawmakers focus on federal money for poverty programs

Pennsylvania lawmakers focus on federal money for poverty programs

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Pennsylvania receives more than $30 million annually to implement programs aimed at stemming poverty within the commonwealth.

In the 2019 federal fiscal year, Pennsylvania received more than $30.2 million in federal funds “and averages about that same amount each year,” Lynette Praster, director of the Center for Community Services at the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), said during a joint hearing of the Senate and House Local Government Committees.

In previous years, local Community Action Agencies leveraged an additional $485 million to help more than 786,000 low-income residents. DCED partners with the Community Action Agency (CAA) network to distribute federal Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funds.

“While the goal of the program is to work toward reducing and eliminating poverty, it also recognizes that the cause of poverty has many contributing factors, such as a lack of access to education or job opportunities,” said Rick Vilello, deputy secretary for community affairs and development for the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). “CSBG funding is one of our best tools for helping those in the greatest need in our communities because it not only helps to eliminate the cause of poverty, but also provides a safety net of services and programs to help those in need.”

In 2018, the programs helped more than 5,700 unemployed low-income people obtain a job, and nearly 1,000 obtain an increase in income, Praster said.

At least 90 percent of the CSBG funds are distributed to 43 eligible entities, Vilello said. Meanwhile, 5 percent is used as discretionary funds, and 5 percent is used for administration.

The money distributed to the agencies is allocated according to a state-developed formula. The current method takes into account the number of people with incomes below 125 percent of the poverty level and the number of unemployed residents within a particular service area.

“CSBG is a federal funding source, although modest, (that) provides a ‘glue’ that creates capacity for agencies to maintain local operations and services, which can ameliorate the causes and conditions of poverty,” Praster said.

“These agencies receive this CSBG federal funding as the foundation for a wide variety of services, local collaborations, partnerships and the improvements they provide,” Praster added. “This federal funding source also enables them to leverage other federal, state and local funding, which facilitates community action agency response with multifaceted approaches to promote community revitalization across the commonwealth.”

While lawmakers’ questions delved into some of the specifics about the funding formula for local programs, there seemed to be a widespread agreement for the need for the programs the federal money supports.

“One size does not fit all for the commonwealth that what we see across the board is an incredible array,” said state Sen. Timothy Kearney, D-Springfield. “… The one thing that we do have that is consistent across the commonwealth is the scourge of poverty.”