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Department of Human Services Provides Updates on Work Supports System for Public Assistance Recipients

02/09/2021

Harrisburg, PA - Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller today outlined comprehensive employment and training programs that provide support for people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits to obtain employment skills, and sustain good jobs: SNAP 50/50, Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS), and the Employment, Advancement and Retention Network (EARN) program.

SNAP is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program – nearly 1.9 million Pennsylvanians rely on SNAP, including more than 84,000 new recipients since February 2020. It serves children, people with disabilities, older adults, and people in low-income situations by providing money each month to spend on groceries, helping households have resources to purchase enough food to avoid going hungry.

“Our goal at DHS is to ensure that people who are connected to our benefits are receiving the supports necessary to achieve their goals. We know that inadequate food and chronic nutrient deficiencies have profound effects on a person’s life and health that can make it difficult for people to achieve and maintain long-term employment,” said Secretary Miller. “We must take a community-wide approach to help people know that they will be supported throughout their journey. We hope programs like SNAP 50/50, KEYS, or EARN will give people the support they need to envision a better future for themselves and their families and then provide them with the tools they need to actualize those dreams.”

SNAP 50/50 sites are partnerships between non-profit organizations, the United States Department of Agriculture, and DHS. Non-profit organizations leverage their funding with matched funds from the federal government to provide career-specific skills training for people receiving SNAP benefits. Program participants gain skills through programs that typically take less than a year to complete in order to help them find a job and excel in a career. Programs include real-world experience and range from masonry to medical billing and coding, hospitality and culinary arts to information technology, machinist to horticulture training, and more.

Participants receive case management to assist them with navigating their program, identifying and addressing employment barriers they may be facing, and supporting what they need to successfully complete the program. This support could include assistance for books and other materials needed to successfully participate in the program, or it could include child care.

KEYS is a collaboration between DHS and 14 community colleges to assist SNAP and TANF recipients in pursuing certificates, degrees, or other credentials at Pennsylvania’s community colleges to help them graduate and obtain employment. SNAP and TANF recipients who express interest in pursuing education options, including shorter-term certificate programs as well as Associates degrees, are referred to KEYS by their caseworker at their County Assistance Office (CAO).

KEYS participants have access to a facilitator at the community colleges for help and support. These facilitators help navigate the college application and orientation process, help with applications for financial aid and scholarships, and connect with college supports like tutoring, career services, and student support and activities. They also help coordinate financial support for things like books, transportation, child care, and other supports needed to overcome barriers to success in education.

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced many SNAP 50/50 sites to transition to remote work or, in the case of more hands-on programs like machinist training, shut down, services have shifted online where possible. DHS is working with federal partners to provide technical assistance to program partners and is lending laptops to participants. Although some programs cannot continue virtually, case management services, life skills resources, and mental health service referrals are continuing. When COVID-19 forced community colleges to move to virtual lessons, DHS worked with our federal partners to start laptop lending program so SNAP and TANF participants enrolled in KEYS programming had access to the technology they needed. 

Through person-centered services and a commitment to reform, DHS’ workforce-focused efforts aim to confront the impact of systemic racism and the inequities that racism has created over many decades. About 29 percent of SNAP beneficiaries are Black despite being 13 percent of Pennsylvania’s general population. Poverty is not a personal or moral failure but is often a consequence of systemic racism and limited resources in particular communities or neighborhoods, which can often be tracked back to segregation-era policies. DHS is focused on uprooting systemic racism and promoting economic justice, particularly for all communities and individuals who use public assistance programs.

“As we look to recover from the economic crisis created by COVID-19, we want to be completely sure that the recovery will not leave behind the people DHS serves. We hope that this focus on equity and opportunity for all people will allow us to help people who may not have been reached or meaningfully served by similar efforts previously,” said Secretary Miller.

Applications for SNAP and other public assistance programs can be submitted online at www.compass.state.pa.us. Those who prefer to submit paper documentation can pick up an application at their local CAO, where social distancing protocols are in place, or they can print from the website or request an application by phone at 1-800-692-7462. They can then mail it to their local CAO or place it in a CAO’s secure drop box, if available. You do not need to know your own eligibility in order to apply. While CAOs remain closed, work processing applications, determining eligibility, and issuing benefits continues. Clients should use COMPASS or the MyCOMPASS PA mobile app to submit necessary updates to their case files while CAOs are closed.

Individuals already receiving SNAP may initiate enrollment in a 50/50 program either through the training provider directly or by talking to their CAO caseworker. If a SNAP or TANF recipient is already attending a community college and interested in KEYS support, they can reach out to the KEYS program and staff or connect with their CAO to start the enrollment process.

For more information on DHS’ E&T Programs visit www.dhs.pa.gov.

MEDIA CONTACT: Erin James - ra-pwdhspressoffice@pa.gov

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