Smith, a former Hill District resident who would like to move back to that area, said she has been searching for a job cleaning houses or styling hair, but each search has reached a dead end.

Side jobs and benefits for her son through Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income program help; her son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The Smith family’s insurance is provided by the state Department of Public Welfare, she said.

“I just live day by day with what I have and what I get until I find a job,” she said.

And for those who can’t find jobs, poverty is a looming threat.

For those in poverty, government-provided welfare has become increasingly controversial, said Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest, a Pittsburgh organization that promotes economic equality. The group helped more than 1,000 Allegheny County residents apply for food stamps in 2012.

“When the safety net has been respected, when it’s been resilient, strong and generous, we’ve made progress on reducing poverty overall and on reducing the racial gap in poverty,” he said. “We’re moving backward because we’ve surrendered key pieces of the safety net.”

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