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Capitol Roundup: State joins effort to remind Pennsylvanians of changes to SNAP benefits

Capitol Roundup: State joins effort to remind Pennsylvanians of changes to SNAP benefits

WILKES-BARRE — Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Acting Secretary Val Arkoosh and Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary for Strategic Initiatives and Market Development Cheryl Cook this week joined leadership from the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and Feeding Pennsylvania to highlight upcoming, significant federal changes to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits that will take effect starting March 1.

They also discussed how important it is for Pennsylvanians to support their local food banks and pantries as the statewide systems works to help people affected by this change.

The federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, which was passed and signed into law in December, ends a pandemic-era response policy that has provided recipients with an additional SNAP payment every month since early 2020.

These payments, known as Emergency Allotments (EAs), bring SNAP households to the maximum monthly benefit for their household size or — if the household is already at its maximum — are $95, whichever is greater.

February is the final month that EAs are authorized to be sent. All SNAP households will lose a minimum of $95 a month in SNAP benefits starting in March, with a statewide average impact of $181 per household.

Additionally, a recent change to Social Security Income following the 2023 cost of living adjustment will cause some seniors and people with disabilities to experience, on average, a further $40 decrease in monthly benefits once EAs end.

“As a physician, I’ve seen the close relationship between a person’s diet and health,: Arkoosh said. “Reliable access to healthy foods and the inherent dignity that comes with knowing you can feed yourself and your family can make a difference on both a person’s physical and mental well-being. If you are having trouble purchasing food for yourself or your family and are worried about what to do or where to go when this extra payment ends, there are resources that can help.”

When these additional benefits end, Pennsylvania’s charitable food network will be called to step up its fight against hunger in communities across the Commonwealth.

Food banks in Pennsylvania typically serve approximately 2.2 million people annually, but since the pandemic began in March 2020, these food banks have served more than 684.2 million pounds of food to more than 83.7 million duplicated individuals and an average of 581,000 people each week.

Supporting local food banks and pantries through monetary donations, in-kind donations of needed food items, and volunteer time will help them continue their support through this change and make their heroic work possible.

SNAP recipients who are pregnant or have kids under 5 may be able to get help buying food from PA WIC. You can call 1-800-WIC-WINS or apply online at — www.pawic.com.

For more information about SNAP Emergency Allotments and food assistance resources available, visit dhs.pa.gov/SNAPcares.

Sen. Casey seeks to prioritize tech

accessibility for people with disabilities

Following ongoing bipartisan efforts led by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released data on the accessibility of federal government technology for the first time in a decade.

DOJ is required by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide a report to Congress and the President every two years on federal technology accessibility.

Despite this mandate, the latest report was from 2012, leaving taxpayers in the dark for over a decade about the accessibility of government technology, including websites, for people with disabilities.

While the new data confirmed the findings of Senator Casey’s recent investigation that exposed widespread accessibility barriers to federal technology, Sen. Casey criticized the data as insufficient and incomplete, and is urging DOJ and the entire federal government to prioritize technology and web accessibility and transparency.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires the federal government to make all its information technology accessible to people with disabilities.

Unfortunately, because of ongoing barriers to federal website and technology access, many people with disabilities — including older adults and veterans — are being barred from key government resources, facing barriers to accessing information about COVID-19, filing claims and accessing health care, using Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) kiosks, and more.

“The data released this week following repeated calls for transparency confirm what my investigation first exposed: people with disabilities are being locked out of government services and are not given a level playing field in federal workplaces due to inaccessible technology,” Casey said. “Unfortunately, after a decade of keeping the public in the dark, the Department of Justice has not provided Americans with disabilities insight into what progress has been made over that time period — which will make it harder for the federal government to remedy these issues and ultimately improve web and technology accessibility. It’s clear that the federal government has a lot more work to do to make technology accessibility and transparency a priority and fulfill our promise to Americans with disabilities, older adults, and veterans.”

Casey is calling on DOJ to improve transparency around Section 508 compliance by returning to their mandated biennial reporting and ensuring their reports are modeled more closely after the agency’s 2012 web accessibility report instead of an abridged data set that DOJ released this week.

Rep. Cabell offers free

assistance to veterans

Rep. Mike Cabell, R-Butler Township, this week announced that he will offer free assistance to area veterans at his district offices in Dallas and Sugarloaf every month, beginning in March.

“I am pleased to be able to provide this assistance through the American Legion to any veteran or their family members who live in the 117th Legislative District,” Cabell said. “They are encouraged to take advantage of this free service if they have questions regarding benefits or programs to which they are entitled.”

The outreach schedule is as follows:

• Second Wednesday of each month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1108 Twin Stacks Drive, Dallas. Call 570-675-6000 to schedule an appointment.

• Third Wednesday of each month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 669 State Route 93, Sugarloaf. Call 570-359-2138 to schedule an appointment.

• On those days, a veterans service officer from the American Legion will be available to meet with veterans or their dependents. Veterans do not need to be an American Legion member to take part in the program.

Rep. Haddock welcomes $226,000

in state funding for area schools

State Rep. Jim Haddock, D-Pittston Township, this week announced six grants totaling $226,669 have been awarded to enhance food safety and prepare healthy meals for students at local schools.

“Access to regular and nutritious meals is key to nurturing students’ minds and keeping them on a path to success in school,” Haddock said. “This funding ensures these schools can continue providing healthy meals and food services to our students through the entire school year.”

According to Haddock, the grants will benefit the following schools in his legislative district:

Luzerne County:

Pittston Area Senior High School – $128,439 for the purchase of a dishwasher.

Pittston Area Middle School – $10,077 for the purchase of an electric convection oven.

Wyoming Area Primary Center – $15,867 for the purchase of an electric tilting kettle.

Wyoming Area Kindergarten Center – $8,684 for the purchase of an electric convection oven.

Funding for the grants is made available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Grants are awarded to schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program. Schools use the grants to purchase or upgrade equipment such as refrigerators, freezers, stoves and dishwashers.

Rep. Watro announce end of Mahanoy

City’s distressed status under Act 47

Rep. Dane Watro, R-Kline Township, this week announced that Mahanoy City has been relieved of its “distressed city” status.

On Feb. 23, the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Deputy Secretary of Community Affairs and Development Rick Vilello will hold an event Thursday, Feb. 23 with state officials at borough hall announcing that Mahanoy City’s status as a financially distressed municipality under Act 47 is ending.

The Schuylkill County borough, which was designated as distressed on Feb. 18, 2016, will be the 20th municipality to recover from its distressed status. It has been considered a distressed city for over seven years.

“I am more than pleased to see this great news for the residents of Mahanoy City and the surrounding area,” said Watro. “I look forward to seeing and continuing to be a part of the borough’s growth and prosperity.”

Residents can stay connected to district and Capitol happenings by following Watro on Facebook at Facebook.com/RepWatro.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.