Thursday, March 26, 2009

State service providers down to bare bones

Who is going to deliver all the important services, when there are no more workers left?

We’re glad Gov. Rendell has additional funds to help vulnerable Pennsylvanians who are losing their jobs, but he MUST provide enough staff to deliver these critical services.

The number of people receiving food stamp benefits is the highest in decades. And our governor is providing more funds for the needy adults who need basic medical care.

But nobody’s asking: "How will these services get to the people who need them?" Rendell has frozen hiring.

In Pennsylvania the staff numbers in the Dept. of Public Welfare-- which administers Medicaid, food stamps and cash assistance to the most needy of our neighbors—is way down.

The staff complement for these workers in Allegheny County alone, is about 400 employees.

They are down to 320 workers now, and people are retiring every day. By June, they expect 120 more to retire! The state has a hiring freeze, and people who need the help are not receiving it in a timely manner.

So ask Gov. Rendell, "Who will deliver these services when there is no more staff in the government?"

- Joni Rabinowitz, Co-Director

Taxes and Obama’s stimulus plan

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) is President Obama’s extensive vision for how the government will invest in America’s future. From health care to green technology to state budgets, the legislation represents a broad effort to return the country to a position of economic stability and prosperity. Included in these efforts are several tax provisions which could impact low- to moderate-income workers. The following is a summary of the major changes and how they might affect you.

Making Work Pay Tax Credit
This credit represents President Obama’s promise to lower taxes for 95 percent of American workers. The credit is equal to 6.2 percent of your earned income up to $6,450, for a maximum credit of $400 ($800 if filling jointly). Earners who make up $95,000 ($190,000 if filling jointly) are eligible for the credit. Taxpayers will receive the credit through a reduction in the amount income taxes withheld from their paychecks, beginning April 1st. The credit is in effect for the 2009 and 2010 tax years. Workers with more than one job may want to ask one of their employers to not reduce their withholding to ensure they will not owe taxes when they file in 2010.

Earned Income Tax Credit
The ARRA expands the Earned Income Tax Credit for larger families with three or more children and for married couples. The credit percentage increases from 40 to 45 percent for large families, meaning a maximum benefit of $5,657 in 2009. The act also widens the income range for a married couple to receive the credit. The credit applies to 2009 and 2010 tax years.

Child Tax Credit
The ARRA lowers the refundability threshold for the Child Tax Credit from $8,500 to $3,000 for 2009 and 2010. This means that more families will be eligible for the tax credit in 2009, and many who were eligible before will get a larger credit.

American Opportunity Tax Credit
This credit expands the Hope Education Credit for low- and moderate-income workers. It increases the maximum credit amount from $1,800 to $2,500. It expands the credit to apply to the first four years of post-secondary education (currently, the credit can only be used for the first two years). It expands the definition of what counts as an expenses to include the cost of any course materials. Finally, up to 40% of the credit is refundable. This means that a taxpayer who qualifies for the $2,500 and doesn’t owe any taxes can still claim a refund credit of $1,000.

Social Security Benefits
Although not technically tax related, there will be a one-time $250 dollar recovery payment for most individuals who receive Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Railroad Retirement and Veterans benefits. You will receive it separately from your benefits by the end of May 2009. It will be delivered in the same way as your current benefits are received. For additional questions, check out

This is a brief summary of the major changes to taxes that will affect low- and middle-income earners. To learn more, check out the Center for Economic Progress’ blog at and check out for news, updates, or to get your voice heard about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Local evening food distribution

Starting this Thursday evening, March 26th, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (GPCFB) is hosting an evening food distribution at it's warehouse on One North Linden Street in Duquesne from 5:30-7:30pm targeting unemployed and underemployed families.

There is no need to pre-register, but bring containers or bags to bring your groceries home with you. To read a recent article from the Post-Gazette with more details about evening food distribution at the GPCFB, click here.

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With food banks facing increasing high demand because of the state of our economy, we feel fortunate that this sort of distribution is able to happen in our area at a time when people need it the most. But charitable contributions can only go so far, and our food banks are still in danger with the continual rising of food costs.

To read about more about the future of our food banks, with in depth commentary from food bank representatives from all over the country such as Iris Valanti from the GPCFB, check out "America's food banks need a bailout: The struggle to feed America's nouveau needy." on And feel free to leave comments...