Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Just Blogging' Relaunch!

The Just Harvest blog hasn't seen much action of late, but that's about to change! With the help of our new volunteer blogger Kati Knowles, we are going to relaunch "Just Blogging" with a series of "hour-in-the-life" staff profiles. Welcome Kati!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

This Just In - Free Pennsylvania-Grown Produce for WIC Families!

We just got some fabulous news from the Allegheny County Health Department, which administers WIC.

Starting June 1, women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or postpartum and children two, three and four years of age each will be issued checks worth $20 in free produce. Each family also will receive a re-usable Farmers Market shopping bag filled with recipe books for using fresh produce and other nutrition education materials.

The checks are redeemable through November 30 for Pennsylvania-grown fresh fruits and vegetables at participating Farmers Markets and Farm Stands in Pennsylvania. More than 50 in Allegheny County are listed on the Health Department’s WIC web site,

In addition to free produce, WIC families receive nutrition counseling, breastfeeding support, and other food benefits, such as infant formula; infant cereal; milk; eggs; cheese; juice; cereal; peanut butter; whole grains, including bread, tortillas, oatmeal and rice; soy milk; tofu; jarred baby foods; dry or canned beans; canned tuna/sardines/pink salmon; and fresh/frozen/canned fruits and vegetables.

WIC is a federally funded program for pregnant or breastfeeding women, postpartum mothers and children under the age of five. Eligibility is based on income and medical risk.

The current income limits are an annual gross income of $20,036 for a family of one; $26,955 for 2; $33,874 for 3; $40,793 for 4; $47,712 for 5; $54,631 for 6; $61,550 for 7; and $68,469 for 8. Add $6,919 for each additional member beyond 8. Unborn children are counted in determining family size when a woman is pregnant.

For information about WIC and how to apply for benefits, please call the County Health Department WIC Program at 412-350-5801. If this number is a toll call or you live outside Allegheny County, please call the statewide toll-free number, 1-800-WIC-WINS.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Our 'Video Harvest' - Send us your stories!

We all know a picture is worth a thousand words – just maybe, a video can be worth millions of dollars.

There’s trouble brewing on both the state and federal budget and policy fronts as it relates to programs that help out the poor, hungry and needy in our communities. We’ve heard from many of you already who have shared with us your concerns, your personal experiences, and your frustrations with the repeated affronts our elected officials have launched against our public safety net. Whether it’s using funding earmarked for welfare programs as a slush fund to balance state or federal budgets, or proposing policy changes that would make it more difficult for low-income Pennsylvanians to apply for Food Stamps or other public assistance. Our lawmakers and the media - as well as our clients and the general public - need to hear from you.

Here’s how to help:

Record (using any kind of equipment – a digital camera or cellular phone will do) your own thoughts on the following issues:

1) Threats to the already under-funded and overworked Department of Public Welfare’s funding in the state budget.

Have you ever tried to call the DPW’s County Assistance Offices? How long does it take for you to get through to a caseworker on the phone? How long do you have to wait in line to be seen by a caseworker at the CAO? Have you ever missed an appointment because they failed to notify you?

These problems could get worse if the DPW funding is cut any further under the new state budget!

2) The WelFAIR reform bills currently under discussion by the state government. Congressional supporters of these bills cite the need to fight widespread ‘waste, fraud and abuse’ in the welfare system. But, these bills would create obstacles of time, bureaucracy, and legal hurdles that can interfere with the timely receipt of benefits that low-income Pennsylvanians are legally entitled to. Moreover, these bills would make it more difficult for low-income individuals to move from welfare to work by limiting what are called “Special Allowance” payments used to pay schooling or job training.

Other bills under discussion call for photo IDs to be printed on the ACCESS cards used to make purchases (and possibly, fingerprinting for cash assistance and food stamp applicants), and periodic drug testing for certain applicants who have been convicted of drug crimes – regardless of whether they are taking steps toward recovery.

Can you tell us how you or one of your loved ones has relied upon these programs currently or in the past?

Can you tell us a story about how difficult it was to apply for and eventually receive your benefits? And how additional requirements could create additional problems?

How would you feel about being forced to submit to photographing or fingerprinting before receiving benefits that you are legally eligible for?

3) The 2012 budget budget as proposed by the House Budget Committee. This budget slashes the SNAP/Food Stamp funding and creates radical reforms to its structure. So far, it calls for a $1.27 billion cut to SNAP/Food Stamps over 10 years, and conversion of the program into a block grant arrangement, where fixed sums would be given to states, meaning that food stamp allotments could literally run dry given heavy demand.

Can you tell us how much of a difference Food Stamps make to you and your family? How would a cut to the program affect you or your children?

We'd like to include all videos that we receive in a special playlist on our Youtube channel. This will make it easy for elected officials, media and other advocates to hear your stories, insights and opinions on these vital issues. Please also include your own contact information with your video so that Just Harvest can get in touch!

Send your videos to:

Friday, January 28, 2011

January 28 is Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day!

At its regular meeting Tuesday, Pittsburgh City Council passed a proclamation sponsored by District 3 Councilman Bruce Kraus declaring this Friday “Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day” in the City of Pittsburgh.
The EITC is a refundable federal income tax credit for low- to moderate-income working individuals and families. Congress originally approved the tax credit legislation in 1975 in part to offset the burden of social security taxes and to provide an incentive to work. During this tax year, qualifying families can receive up to $5,666.00 in EITC.

Councilman Kraus stressed the importance of the EITC in boosting the incomes of lower-income workers, especially in light of the continuing effects of the recent recession.

Representatives from Just Harvest and the United Way of Allegheny County were onhand to receive the proclamation. Just Harvest is one of several organizations in the United Way of Allegheny County’s ‘Money in Your Pocket Coalition,’ which offers annual, free tax assistance through six IRS-certified Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites in Allegheny County.

Adam MacGregor, Just Harvest Communications Coordinator, noted the need for wider awareness of EITC. He said that though EITC can account for as much as 45 percent of a family’s annual income, only between 15 and 20 percent of eligible individuals claim the credit.

“To put this in perspective: EITC can boost an $8.00 per hour job to a $10.00 per hour job, which can make all the difference to a low-income taxpayer,” he said.

Suelynn Shiller of the United Way of Allegheny County said that for tax year 2009, the Money In Your Pocket Coalition processed 4,486 tax returns for low-income clients, reclaiming $3.1 million in EITC. Percina Grier, a tax client of the MIYPC in 2009, called the EITC that she received with the help of the free tax service a “great help and a blessing.”

Taxpayers can get free help in determining their EITC eligibility and claiming the credit by contacting the Money In Your Pocket Coalition at the United Way of Allegheny County’s helpline: 412-255-1155. The Coalition’s free tax assistance services are now available for individuals who made up to $20,000 and families who earned up to $40,000 in 2010. Visit for details.