Pennsylvanians with Disabilities Sue to Restore General Assistance & Other Critical Human Services

PHILADELPHIA, PA — Three low-income Pennsylvanians with disabilities, Billie Washington, Opal Gibson, and Tina Smith, filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court today seeking to challenge Act 80, signed by the Governor on June 30, 2012. Act 80 eliminated the General Assistance cash grants of about $200 per month that enabled 68,000 Pennsylvanians to pay their rent and eat. Act 80 also creates a pilot block grant program that allows 20 selected counties to shift tens of millions of dollars for already underfunded mental health and intellectual disability services to pay for other services.

These individuals are joined by multiple advocacy and membership organizations for Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities and mental illness and people seeking treatment for addiction, including the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association, the Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania, the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, The Philadelphia Alliance, the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Community Providers Association. They are also joined by Success Against All Odds, a statewide membership organization that helps low-income families obtain education and training.

The lawsuit alleges that the legislative process through which Act 80 was enacted violates the Pennsylvania Constitution for multiple reasons: Read more

Community Legal Services (Phila, PA) holds townhall on recent changes to DPW programs

On Thursday, July 26, Community Legal Services in Philadelphia held a townhall to discuss recent changes in programs administered by the Department of Public Welfare.  The townhall discussed the elimination of General Assistance and changes to the welfare-to-work system, Medical Assistance, and food stamps (SNAP) benefits.

To listen to a podcast of the presentation courtesy of the Philadelphia Bar Association, please click here.

Materials distributed at the townhall are listed below:

My General Assistance will end on August 1. What do I need to know?

UPDATED:  The fliers below have been updated with the recent information that the Department of Public Welfare has agreed to postpone the elimination of General Assistance until August 1.

Community Legal Services (CLS) has prepared two community education pieces for its clients facing the possible imminent elimination of General Assistance, their sole source of income.

One-page hand-out describing what will happen

Accompanying hand-out with more detailed Frequently Asked Questions


Community social services agencies & Religious Organizations Urge Delay in Eliminating General Assistance

The Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania and 19 other social services providers and religious organizations from across Pennsylvania sent a letter to the Governor earlier this week requesting advance notice before Pennsylvania eliminated General Assistance.

The organizations continue to oppose the elimination of General Assistance, a critical last resort program that provides a temporary bridge to stability for people with disabilities, people fleeing from domestic violence, people participating in drug and alcohol treatment programs that preclude employment, and children living with non-relative caretakers.  But if General Assistance is eliminated, the organizations urge the Commonwealth to provide recipients with advance warning.

The text of the letter is below.  The full letter can be read by clicking here. Read more

New interactive online calculator shows the real cost of eliminating GA

The state budget proposes to save $150,000,000 by eliminating General Assistance (GA).   But what is the real cost of eliminating General Assistance to Pennsylvania taxpayers?

For example, if just 18% of current GA recipients turn to the shelter system, this scheme will cost Pennsylvania taxpayers money.  And if just 9% get caught up in the criminal justice system, this scheme will cost Pennsylvania taxpayers money.

Click here to try out our new online interactive calculator to find out the real cost of eliminating General Assistance to Pennsylvania taxpayers.


Why General Assistance is a Program Worth Saving

The following information is available as a downloadable, printable pdf file by clicking here.

General Assistance is a Critical Bridge to Stability for

68,000 Penniless Pennsylvanians

Preserve the GA Program!

The General Assistance (GA) program supports the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians who have no other income, while they transition to a more stable life.  It is truly a program of last resort.  The only people who can receive GA are:

  • Disabled or sick adults without minor children,
  • Domestic violence survivors, many of who have just fled their abusers,
  • Adults participating in intensive alcohol or drug treatment programs,
  • Children living with an unrelated adult, and
  • Adults caring for someone who is sick or disabled, or for an unrelated child.

The GA program provides only a subsistence benefit level.  GA pays only $205 per month in most counties.  This amount is less than 25% of the federal poverty line and has not been increased since 1990.   This small sum, however, helps people rent a room, take the bus, do laundry, and maintain basic hygiene.

GA provides temporary help for people in transition.  GA helps battered women get on their feet after fleeing their abusers – but only for 9 months.  Likewise, people in drug or alcohol treatment programs that preclude work can receive GA for no more than 9 months while they get clean and ready to work.  Some people receive GA while recovering from temporary disabilities, such as a broken leg, that prevent them from working.  And others receive GA while applying for federal disability benefits.

Eliminating GA is penny wise and pound foolish.  The Corbett administration estimates that eliminating the GA program will save $150 million per year.   But these projected savings will be far exceeded by the additional public costs to support the newly homeless and destitute.  These costs include homeless shelters ($1,050 a month), foster care ($600 – $1,800 a month), incarceration ($2,750 a month), and state psychiatric hospitals ($20,584 a month).

The end of GA will worsen severe hardship.  Without a GA safety net, battered women will have to remain with abusive partners.  Disabled adults will lose their housing.  And orphaned children will be placed in foster care rather than with loving friends.

For many people, GA is simply a loan program.  Many people receive GA while they wait for the Social Security Administration to consider their disability claim. When their claim is approved, the state is reimbursed for their GA from their disability payments.   Last year, for example, the Social Security Administration reimbursedPennsylvania over $26 million in GA payments.

The GA program is not being misused.  Since the current recession started in December 2007, the Pennsylvania economy has lost over 100,000 jobs (net). Meanwhile, the number of people receiving GA has increased by only 10,352 (from 57,357 to 67,879).  Fewer than 1 in 200 Pennsylvanians receive GA, but for those that do, it is a critical safety net benefit that can be the difference between life and death.
For more information, please visit or contact Michael Froehlich ( / 215-981-3707) or Louise Hayes ( / 215-227-4734)

Where do people receiving General Assistance live?

In Pennsylvanian, 68,836 adults and children receive General Assistance as a temporary bridge to stability.

With the largest population in the Commonwealth, Philadelphia also has the largest number of people receiving General Assistance.  But recipients of General Assistance live in every county of the Commonwealth.

According to the Dept of Public Welfare, here are the top 10 counties where people who receive General Assistance live.

  1. Philadelphia
  2. Allegheny
  3. Delaware
  4. Erie
  5. Berks
  6. Lancaster
  7. Montgomery
  8. Westmoreland
  9. Bucks
  10. Lackawanna

You can find more county-by-county statistics by clicking here.



Save General Assistance without raising taxes

We can save General Assistance and restore funding for other vital programs and services without raising taxes, simply by closing corporate loopholes and postponing scheduled tax cuts.

Click here and here for two important one-page fact sheets from Better Choices for Pennsylvania.