East Liberty welfare office closing halted

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What was to have been a rally protesting the planned closing of the state Department of Pubic Welfare’s East Liberty office last week turned to celebration after an 11th hour capitulation, saving those who use the office for services from having to travel to McKeesport—a $9.50 round trip bus ride.

The department said the office would remain in its current location at 5947 Penn Ave., pending an agreement with the landlord, until it finds a new location within five miles, accessible by public transit.

Rochelle Jackson, public policy advocate for the Just Harvest advocacy organization, said the DPW reversal is a huge victory.

“That’s one of the larger offices in the county and its unreasonable to expect people to travel an hour, sit there for four—or even have to wait outside because of the crowd,” she said. “They did not give enough thought to this. So we’re very happy we brought the clients voices to this, because they clearly were not part of the discussion.”

Though many DPW services can be accessed online or by phone, Welfare advocates complain that low staffing levels require clients to visit the office to resolve problems, and those applying for cash assistance for the first time, must do so in person.

Jackson said the McKeesport option was promoted as a temporary fix because the Downtown Pittsburgh office, though much closer, does not have room for the extra clients or for the staff.

Though DPW is still looking for a newer office, it and the landlord have agreed to a month-to month arrangement to keep the office in its current location.

“This was a big deal because we only had a few days to stop this, DPW had planned to be using McKeesport by May 2,” said Jackson. “But the community came together, and with the help of people like state Rep. (Guy) Costa, (Ed) Gainey and Sen. (Jim) Ferlo, we stopped it.”

According to the statistics, roughly 19,000 Allegheny County residents receive DPW cash assistance, another 160,000 receive food stamp benefits and more than 190,000 are enrolled in Medicaid.

Jackson said she is working to schedule a community meeting with DPW representatives to let everyone know that services and access are not changing for the time being.

State Rep. Ed Gainey, D- East Liberty, thanked the clients and the members of the city coalition, and Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald for working together to save the East Liberty office.

“I’m very happy the department reversed itself because you want to have social services where the people can get to them,” he said. “Your going to move the office from a community that has 30 buses to one that has two, that’s crazy. Services shouldn’t be a burden, they should be accessible.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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