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Shared Prosperity Roundtable Looks at Making Public Benefits Work for Families in Transition

December 16, 2014 Category: PeopleUncategorized

Shared Prosperity, the city’s cross-sector initiative to reduce poverty, held one of its periodic round table discussions last Friday, December 12. The discussions bring experts and members of the community into the same room to talk about problems and solutions surrounding poverty.

“What we try and do at each round table is to take an issue or concern and learn something more about it,” said Eva Gladstein, executive director of the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, which launched the Shared Prosperity Plan and coordinates its partners outside of government.

The latest roundtable featured speakers from organizations that are working on how to make public benefits work for families not just in poverty, but for those transitioning out of it.

“We all agree that when you work more you should be better off, when you get a raise you should be better off, and the good news is that our public benefits programs recognize that and are designed to make that happen,” said Louise Hayes, an attorney at Community Legal Services, a nonprofit law firm that serves low-income Philadelphians.

“With SNAP, if you make 100 dollars more, then your going to lose $24 to 36 in food stamps, but you’re going to be ahead by $64 to 76,” Hayes added. “SNAP has a structure where you are better off when you work. That’s also true with [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families]. It’s true with housing programs. It’s true with childcare.”

But while public benefits are supposed to gradually decline as income rises, there is still a “cliff effect” reported by recipients, where benefits are cut too soon and hamper a family’s ability to escape poverty.

“I am right now living the cliff effect,” said Emily Edwards, a home healthcare worker who lives in a shelter with her seven year old son. She spoke at the roundtable about how her increased income has led to, she believes, a significant cut to her SNAP benefits.

“My issue is that now that my hours picked up, how am I going to feed myself?” she asked.

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Other experts at the event said the cuts to her benefits were likely due to a clerical error at the welfare office — because technically, as Hayes pointed out, this shouldn’t happen — but they also noted that the decline in SNAP benefits could be more gradual to help people like Edwards moved towards economic independence.

Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University, spoke about how cuts in SNAP can have a negative impact on the health of families. She highlighted data from a report released last week by the Center that found cuts to SNAP led to increased food insecurity, decreased oral health for children, and families forgoing medical care for financial reasons.

The report also made a number of policy suggestions for the SNAP program: make it easier to apply for SNAP, create more gradual decline in benefits, and remove asset test for eligibility.

“I don’t want to be on welfare my whole life,” Edwards said. “This is not my story. This is not what I want to do.”

Photo by Alex Vuocolo

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Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity

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