County Executive candidates respond to child poverty, food insecurity and housing stability briefings from human services leaders
PITTSBURGH, April 11, 2023 – It is likely that the next Allegheny County executive will enter office with a deeper understanding of issues and solutions for key human services challenges thanks to a forum with nonprofit leaders working on the front lines each day.
Six of the seven candidates on the ballot for what is arguably the most important elective office in western Pennsylvania heard directly from experts in three issue areas at a video-recorded event. Tuesday: access to housing, food insecurity and children living in poverty. The two-hour session included candidate responses to questions developed by human services leaders ahead of their presentations.
The forum, organized by The United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and The Pittsburgh Foundation, was attended by about 75 human services leaders at the Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District.
Candidates participating were attorney Dave Fawcett, state Rep. Sara Innamorato (District 21), Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb, business owner Will Parker, former PNC Bank executive Joe Rockey and Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein. Theresa Sciulli Colaizzi, a former Pittsburgh Public Schools board member and the seventh registered candidate, did not respond to the invitation.
The event, moderated by Birmingham Foundation Executive Director Michelle Figlar, was an opportunity for candidates to learn more about the current state of the top three intractable issues affecting quality of life and government budgets. Allegheny County’s expenditures on health and welfare, the category which includes human services, makes up 39% of the county’s $1 billion 2023 operating budget.
Briefing the candidates in each issue area were Director of Government Affairs for Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank Colleen Young (food insecurity), First Step Recovery Homes Executive Director Keenon Mikell (housing) and Human Services Center Mon Valley Executive Director Dave Coplan (children living in poverty). In preparation for the meeting, nonprofit leaders met to discuss their policy recommendations, as well as to develop comments and clarifying questions on the issues.
“We at The Pittsburgh Foundation and the United Way have benefitted repeatedly from the expertise and on-the-ground knowledge of human services leaders, and we wanted to provide the same opportunity this evening to all candidates who are interested,” Pittsburgh Foundation President and CEO Lisa Schroeder said in opening the session.
To highlight the urgency and need for immediate action, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania President & CEO Bobbi Watt Geer reported in her closing remarks that calls and text messages to the organization’s 211 help hotline have doubled since the pandemic. She cited data showing that 38% of residents are asset limited and income constrained despite being employed, and that they struggle to meet basic needs of food, housing and child care.
“We set out to focus on the issues that impact our ability to collectively rise and thrive as a community – issues that are not always at the center of these conversations, but should be. To the candidates, I hope you will carry the voices and messages you heard this evening to help us build that community in which everyone has an equitable opportunity to thrive.”
That plea is also central to the vision statement adopted for The Pittsburgh Foundation’s new strategic plan, which, Schroeder said, commits the organization to create a region in which every person – regardless of race, identity or circumstances – has opportunities to thrive.
“Any progress we can make as partners with government in the three areas selected for tonight’s briefings will benefit all Allegheny County residents – not just those directly in need,” she said.
The candidates’ responses are included in the event recording, which is unedited and presented in its entirety.