Morning Must Reads: Soup Kitchens & Self Sufficiency Programs Under Pressure & Marcellus Public Health Issues

The Erie Times-News reports this morning that Governor Tom Corbett's decision to implement an asset test for food assistance in Pennsylvania is expected to drive more people to seek help in already overburdened soup kitchens.

In other news this morning, it has fallen to charitable foundations to fund programs to help identify the public health impacts of Marcellus Shale development.

When Sister Mary Miller took over Emmaus Ministries in 1980, she dreamed of one day being able to close the agency's soup kitchen, hoping the need would no longer be there.

In 1980, the kitchen served about 100 people a day.

Today, the facility ... serves close to 200 people daily, feeding a city racked by a skyrocketing poverty crisis.

The soup kitchen's numbers are likely to rise even more in the coming months, Miller believes, when major changes in the state's food-stamp program will eliminate some area residents from those eligible to receive the government benefits.

On May 1, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare will reinstate asset testing for people seeking to qualify for food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program...

Critics of the asset test, like Miller, insist the move will hurt thousands of people who are already struggling, penalize those who save money, and burden food pantries, soup kitchens and social-service agencies that are already overwhelmed.

"To think, I once hoped there would be a time where we wouldn't need the soup kitchen," the Erie Benedictine nun and director of Emmaus said. "Now, with this, the door of the soup kitchen will only have to become wider."

The Intelligencer Journal in Lancaster details a funding crisis at a non-profit that helps people become self-sufficient.

[The New Choices] program which has quietly helped women for nearly 30 years is facing a challenging financial future, according to officials.

Several years ago, the program had an annual budget of around $178,000 and a staff of five.

Current state funding is $31,000, and, after recently laying off an employee, the program is down to one staffer, director Tricia Nabors said.

Since 1985, the program has helped more than 2,500 women and an estimated 3,500 children, [Lancaster County Career & Technology Foundation President King] Knox said.

"The common theme of our student is lack of formal education, consequently lack of job skills, which limits the access of occupations that provide self-sufficient wages," Nabors said. ...

"We provide opportunity for women to come in, get educated, obtain some job skills and reduce the need to be on any type of assistance," she said.

People who complete the program go on to good jobs, Knox said.

" … we're seeing individuals with full-time jobs earning $16, $18, $20 an hour or more, depending on their chosen profession, with benefits," he said. "So they're off the public roll so to speak. They're out of the cycle of poverty and welfare. And that's the whole point of this."

While existing programs are facing rising demand and declining state support, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports this morning that it has fallen to charitable foundations to fund programs to help identify the public health impacts of Marcellus Shale development.  

A new, first-of-its-kind medical program to assess both the individual and public health impacts of widespread Marcellus Shale gas development has begun in Washington County.

The nonprofit Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project opened an office in McMurray last week in response to what it termed growing local and medical concerns over the potential health effects from hazardous chemical and pollutant releases associated with the rapid growth of shale gas development.

The nonprofit health project, funded by the Heinz Endowments, the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Claneil Foundation, opened its office last week on Washington Road in McMurray.

The office will help area residents recognize and understand exposure pathways in the air and water, and schedule medical exams and evaluations to diagnose health problems that may result from them, said Raina Rippel, project director. An on-site Washington County nurse practitioner is available by appointment for home visits, exams and consultations, and already has conducted several patient assessments...

In addition to providing individual medical care, the program is the first in the nation to attempt to assess the health impacts from shale gas drilling in any comprehensive and methodical way, said David Brown, a public health toxicologist in Connecticut and director of Public Health Toxicology for Environment and Human Health Inc., which helped design the program.

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