Burns strives to keep Cambria Assistance Office in Johnstown

Seeks answers from DHS on compliance with Downtown Location Law

EBENSBURG, Dec. 4 – Seeking to exhaust every possible avenue to keep the Cambria County Assistance Office and its 40 jobs in Johnstown, state Rep. Frank Burns wants information from the state Department of Human Services regarding compliance with the Pennsylvania Downtown Location Law.

Burns, D-Cambria, said the 2000 law, explicitly designed to encourage state agencies to locate facilities in downtown areas, requires each state department to establish guidelines to encourage such location.

Burns wants a copy of those guidelines from the DHS – as well as a copy of the current downtown office lease, as the law also has a lease provision requiring state agencies to consider locating offices in downtown areas.

“I think it’s important to independently verify, before this office moves to an area outside the city, how the requirements of the Downtown Location Law were factored in,” Burns said. “DHS is required to follow this law – and if they haven’t, they should be able to show why.”

In an email to Hannah Kranz, director of legislative affairs for DHS, Burns asked for the lease and the guidelines, which include: The requirements of the agency, servicing clientele needs, local economic considerations, availability of suitable space in a downtown area, competitiveness in the marketplace, cost to the Commonwealth, safety to persons using the office facility, availability of public transportation, compatibility with the economic revitalization plan for the downtown area, local zoning ordinances, likelihood of natural disasters and preventative and emergency response measures thereto, and comments from existing public and private sector organizations committed to community, downtown revitalization and historic preservation to be identified by the Department of Community and Economic Development.

“Was there a public comment period before the decision was made to move the assistance office to the richest school district in Cambria County?” Burns wrote in his email. “Would the department be willing to hold a public meeting on the issue? Would the department officials attend a hearing scheduled through my office on the issue?”

Additional comments Burns made regarding the guideline topics were:

  • "Most of the clients of the assistance office reside in Johnstown where over 38% of people live in poverty. Few if any clients live in the proposed location; can you poll them to find out what they prefer?”
  • “Johnstown is the poorest city in PA and the downtown is struggling – this move will further put economic strain on the city and its businesses.”
  • “It’s clear the best place for this office is near the people that need your services, moving creates a hardship for clients … I’m sure we can get you into a suitable space for a lot less than you are paying now – a cost savings for sure.”
  • “I’m not aware of any safety issues in the current location – Please provide any confirmed incidents of crime … How long does it take a bus to get to the proposed (new) location?”
  • “No floods in over 40 years in downtown Johnstown.”