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: justharvestblog@gmail.com.

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