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Just Harvest hires food-stamp specialist

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Eugenia Mosby has always worked. Still, the single mother from McKeesport had struggled to keep enough food on the table for her two children -- until two years ago when she finally decided to apply for food stamps from the state's Department of Public Welfare. Since then Mosby has been drawing about $54 a month in such benefits, a vital supplement to her family's food budget. "Every little bit helps," she says.

However, more than four out of 10 households statewide that qualify for food stamps have yet to tap into the aid. Mosby says she understands why.

"It's a large system; it could be intimidating," Mosby says, "It's just a bothersome process."

But now it's her job to help more eligible families take advantage of the benefits. Mosby began work earlier this month at Just Harvest, a South Side-based welfare advocacy group, as its first ever food-stamp specialist.

Mosby says often applicants are frustrated either by misinformation or the redundant paperwork asked of them. One of her new responsibilities is to document barriers and problems people face in the application process.

A household of three must make less than $1,800 in gross income per month to qualify. Under this program, a household is defined as people who prepare and share meals together. Asset caps and work requirements are also imposed by the program.

The new position is funded by $75,000 in state and federal grant dollars that aim to boost participation in food stamps. Similar grants were made to 15 other community-based organizations across the state. The grants are renewable up to four years.

"The intent," says DPW spokesperson Stacey Witalec, "was to increase public awareness of the food-stamp program. It helps working families to provide essential food and nutrition to their family members. It is an entitlement."

Which sets it apart from welfare -- though the common misconception that food stamps are welfare may have driven away some eligible applicants, says Rochelle Jackson, welfare-client advocate and organizer at Just Harvest.

"It's a stereotype which hinders some people, even poor people," says Jackson. "Some people don't want to fall into that stereotype." But she adds that currently families must apply for the benefits at the county assistance office, which does little to help combat that impression. The food-stamp program is financed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture but is administered at the state level by an agency of the state's choosing.

With Mosby's hiring, Just Harvest plans to offer eligible applicants the convenience of applying at the organization's office. In the meantime, she will reach out to those who could use the aid by telling them that it's simply smart to do so.

"If you don't use it, you'd lose it," says Mosby, "and give the government the reason to drastically cut services."

To contact food-stamp specialist Eugenia Mosby, call Just Harvest at 412-431-8960.

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