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Jump In SNAP Benefits ‘The Tip Of The Iceberg,’ Advocates Say

The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, jumped drastically between March and April. Local hunger advocates say the next wave of data could look far worse.


On today's program: Applications for SNAP benefits are up; today is the deadline for mail-in ballot requests; a preview of one state House election; and a Pennsylvania company pivots from making football jerseys to face masks. 

SNAP participation rates are up across Pennsylvania
(00:00 — 5:23)

More than 100,000 Pennsylvanians began receiving SNAP benefits last month, doubling the largest one-month increase in the state’s 16 years of available data. Allegheny County represents about 10 percent of those new additions. 

Through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is providing $2.14 per meal per person each month. 

“The maximum amount is intended to be an entire monthly food budget for a family, which is inadequate,” says Ann Sanders of the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Just Harvest

And although businesses are slowly reopening, Sanders says she thinks more people will likely sign up in the coming months.

“I expect that this is actually the tip of the iceberg. Usually SNAP follows unemployment, and there’s a little bit of a delay behind it, so I would expect next month that when we see May’s participation numbers, they will be even higher.”

More than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians  have applied for unemployment since Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the shutdown of non-essential businesses mid-March. The state Department of Labor and Industry shows Pennsylvania’s jobless rate jumped to 15.1 percent in April.

Starting in June, SNAP recipients will be able to order their food online, but the same restrictions apply:  the assistance cannot be used for cleaning, hygiene or baby products, nor for delivery fees. 

Today is the last day for mail-in ballot requests
(5:28 — 8:57)

The voting process in Allegheny County will look a little different this year, with shorter lines and far fewer polling places. The June 2nd primary—rescheduled from April due to the pandemic—will be Pennsylvanians’ first chance to vote by mail en masse. 

If every one of the 250,000 county residents who’ve requested a mail-in ballot so far sends that vote in, turnout will be far higher than the last Presidential primary in 2012 when an incumbent faced a single challenger—roughly 28 percent, and that doesn’t include folks who vote in-person on Election Day. 

WESA’s Lucy Perkins reports that residents who vote in-person should bring their own black or blue pens to mark their ballots, wear a mask and stay six feet away from other people while inside local precincts. Poll workers will be outfitted with infection protection kits, including masks, gloves, sanitizer and wipes.

Voters have until 5 p.m today to request a mail-in ballot. The county elections division must receive completed ballots by 8 p.m. June 2.

State House election reignites old conflicts in the Democratic Party
(8:57 — 13:22)

Next week, first-term Democratic Rep. Summer Lee will face North Braddock Borough Councilor Chris Roland in one of the state House’s most contentious primaries this election season. While Lee is an ardent progressive, Roland favors a more moderate approach. 

90.5 WESA’s An-Li Herring reports the race brings long-simmering tensions within the Democratic Party to the surface.

The move from jerseys to masks causes controversy at one PA company
(13:23 — 18:00) 

Masks have become a way of life for most people now, and some companies have changed their operations to make them. The idea is pretty simple: making masks is a way to keep people working while providing something important during the coronavirus pandemic. 

But as PA Post’s Ed Mahon reports, several workers at one Northumberland County business vehemently disagreed

90.5 WESA's Doug Shugarts contributed to this report.

 The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jzenkevich@wesa.fm.
Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.
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