Providing a Proper Helping Hand “Up”

As someone who grew up in the Erie Heights housing project, I know the value of a social safety net. My father was one of those great American heroes who stormed Omaha Beach, but after the war ended, his new career as a carpenter didn’t make our family rich. We needed a hand up—and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But we never stopped providing for ourselves. Growing up in tough circumstances taught me and my three siblings the value of hard work. To help pay the family bills, I mowed lawns, delivered newspapers, picked strawberries, and worked a lathe.

Even if I could go back in time and hand my parents a winning Powerball ticket, I wouldn’t.

I would not change a thing because the experience of working hard to overcome challenges is priceless. That’s where I’m coming from in my approach to improving the welfare system in Erie and across our state.

I know it’s tempting for some people to let welfare benefits be the ceiling of what they can achieve. While I strongly support Pennsylvania’s social safety net, I also believe able-bodied welfare recipients – in particular those without children — should volunteer, take education or training courses, or find at least part-time work to continue receiving benefits.

Meaningful work for those who can manage it is the only way to escape the cycle of poverty. Each individual’s circumstances are unique and we cannot expect that a permanent, full-time job is easily achievable for everyone. That’s why the safety net exists, and it’s why we must ensure that the Commonwealth’s limited resources go to those who need them most.

For those who can work, it’s the best option. Work is a proven means to lift people from poverty, as analysis from other states has shown. For example, when Arkansas added work incentives to their food stamp program, SNAP recipients who chose to work tripled their income within two years. In Kansas and Maine, where similar legislation was enacted, incomes more than doubled as former benefits recipients entered the healthcare, IT, and finance sectors.

Here in Pennsylvania, many on welfare who pursue full-time employment have met with great success. Education and training can give those in tough circumstances a leg up on a new career.

We can never ignore those who need help or leave them behind. However, it is time to strike the proper balance of encouraging what’s best for our fellow Pennsylvanians, while showing compassion when they struggle.

In closing, I encourage local residents to visit my website,, and my Facebook page,, to keep up to date with state government news and learn more about state services and agencies.

Contact:         Matt Azeles       

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