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Food task force pinpointing areas to allocate resources

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Vegetables for sale at the Haupt Produce stand at the Lewisburg Farmers Market on Wednesday.

“One of our most basic needs — food — does not stop during this emergency.”

That’s what Teresa Miller, state secretary of human services, had to say of efforts by the Wolf Administration to ensure that everyone’s food security needs are met during this uncertain time.

“Life has slowed and it has changed, but it has not stopped for the millions of Pennsylvanians who depend on food assistance programs that are administered by the Department of Human Services.”

Miller and Russell Redding, state secretary of agriculture, spoke during an online event about what is being done by the administration and resources available for people living in the state as the coronavirus public health crisis continues.

An emergency feeding task force is in place, the two said.

“We know that this pandemic has caused many people and families to suddenly find that they are food insecure and require assistance,” Miller said.

This force, according to Miller, is “comprised of public, private and non-profit partners from across the state including the governor’s food security partnership state agencies, the Salvation Army, Feeding PA and the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association.”

She added that the task force works as a “hub” to find out what the greatest needs are in the state — including how many meals are needed, how the state is going to get food to people and how many volunteers are needed across the state.

“The task force is collecting information on businesses that have resources that can help,” she said.

There is also a second survey within the force that will help determine where to allocate resources.

Miller said that she has seen a 23-percent increase in online applications for these services while Redding added that there are about 240,000 new unemployment applicants.

“They are seeing people applying for the first time,” Redding said.

“Our resources are still available to ensure that all eligible Pennsylvanians are connected to the programs they need,” Miller said.

Though their county assistance offices are closed for the time being, eligibility determinations, application processing and benefit issuance will continue for Pennsylvanians in all counties.

The state is continuing to process applications and benefit renewals for their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and their Low Income Home Energy Assistance Programs and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs.

Emergency SNAP applications can also be expedited and issued within five days according to Miller.

She added that individuals can continue to send in paperwork as they would, and those who are currently enrolled in SNAP who may miss a deadline, not complete an interview or provide verification will still receive their program benefits.

“We are also expecting to issue an additional payment to assist households,” she said. “It will help applicants comply with CDC guidelines calling for households to have food for two weeks available.”

Miller added that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia blocked portions of the Trump Administration’s rule that would jeopardize SNAP access for able-bodied adults without dependence.

She, as well as Redding, expressed support for continued voluntarism during this time, especially with local food banks.

“We know that this time is also creating an incredible strain on non-profit organizations,” she added. “We ask that those who are healthy and able please consider taking some time to volunteer with your local food bank. There operations are seriously altered due to this situation but their services are and will continue to be incredibly needed as COVID-19 continues to disrupt our daily lives.”

Wolf’s mitigation efforts — the closure of non-life sustaining businesses and the Stay at Home order — does not require food banks and their volunteers to stop providing services, as well as school districts who are providing meals for children during school closures.

“We are on the job, though working in new COVID-19 preventive ways to keep everyone involved safe,” Joe Arthur, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, said. “We know more of our neighbors will be needing help and some of them have never asked for food assistance before. Please don’t hesitate, we and our amazing partner agencies are here for you.”

For area residents and other individuals who want to help the food bank, Carla Fisher, marketing and communications coordinator, said that financial contributions have helped provide meals for people.

She added that even a $1 donation can provide six meals.

All of the food that has come to the food bank is and has always been handled safely. They have come up with “virtual food drives” to help obtain and distribute fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and even complete “crisis relief boxes” to people in the area who have been impacted.

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