Commonwealth Court to hear arguments in GA lawsuit on 4/17/13

In October 2012, three woman whose General Assistance was terminated filed a lawsuit challenging the end of General Assistance.  They were joined by seven statewide organizations, including the PA Community Providers Association and the Mental Health Association.

The lawsuit argued, among other things, that the way that this legislation was enacted violated Article III of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  Article III requires a certain level of “legislative due process” to ensure that laws are only passed after careful deliberation.  Specifically, this lawsuit argued that the way this law was enacted was unconstitutional because (A) there was no “single subject” where the provisions affected 2.7 million Pennsylvanians and 39% of the state budget; (B) the original intent of the bill had nothing to do with the final bill; and (C) the bill was not considered on three separate days.

At the end of October, a judge with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court declined to issue a preliminary injunction in the case.  This would have given the petitioners a quick victory.  However, the case continued in both Commonwealth Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, April 17th, the case will come before a seven judge panel of the Commonwealth Court.

The panel will convene at 9:30am in the Supreme Court Room on the 8th floor of the City-County Building, 414 Grant Street, Pittsburgh, PA. 

The hearing is open and the public is welcome to attend.

There are typically a number of cases listed at one time.  Although this case will be heard some time during the morning, it is unknown when specifically when the case will be called that morning.  The Department of Public Welfare will argue first.  They will have 15 minutes.  The Petitioners will go after they are done.  The Petitioners will also have 15 minutes.

Please see below for links to the legal documents involved in the case.

NOTE: Petitioners are the three women who lost their General Assistance, plus several statewide organizations affected by the bill.  The Respondent is the Department of Public Welfare.

Petitioners’ Petition for Review (10/1/2012)

Respondent’s Brief in Support of Preliminary Objections (1/7/13)

Petitioners’ Opposition to Respondent’s Motion for Preliminary Objections (2/6/13)

Brief of Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioners (2/4/13)

Phila City Paper: Welfare cuts push Philly’s poor to the brink

OUT OF ALL of Opal Gibson’s problems, losing $205 per month — the General Assistance payments she had received from the state until this August — is not the biggest. Gibson, 59, lost her job drawing blood at Einstein Hospital in 2010, soon after her son died falling from a three-story building while intoxicated; she lives with hepatitis C she thinks she contracted on the job; and she is recovering from drug addiction. But the end of General Assistance, consigned to oblivion by Gov. Tom Corbett and the Republican legislature this year, has made her problems much worse.

Click here to continue reading.

Court hearing scheduled in lawsuit seeking to reinstate General Assistance

On Tuesday, October 23, at 10am, a judge with the Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg will hold a hearing on whether to grant a preliminary injunction that would, among other things, restore General Assistance, stop the pilot block grant program for human services funding, and reverse new rules that make it more difficult for families to move from welfare to work.  The lawsuit, Billie Washington v. Department of Public Welfare, alleges that the legislative process through which Act 80, the bill that contained historic and sweeping changes to seven disparate programs and services, was enacted violated the Pennsylvania Constitution for multiple reasons.

The hearing is open and the public is welcome to attend.

WHERE:  Courtroom 3001, Pennsylvania Judicial Center, 601 Commonwealth Ave, Harrisburg, PA
WHEN: Tuesday, October 23, 2012, 10am

For more information on the lawsuit, including links to the legal papers, please visit

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

Rally on 9/13: Where is the help Governor Corbett promised GA recipients?

70,000 Pennsylvanians have had their only source of income taken by a State Budget that cut social services, eliminated General Assistance and gave every legislator a pay raise while cutting taxes for corporations!

Come to the Governor’s Philadelphia Office to demand:

  General Assistance for all who need it!

 Broad St. and Walnut St

September 13th, 11:00 am

 Governor Corbett’s staff promised the hundreds of people who tried to meet with him in July that the Governor would let us know what other programs are available.

He still hasn’t told us where we can find help.  Come with us and ask:

Governor where is the help you offered?

 For more info:

ACT UP Philadelphia to hold protest against GA cuts on Weds, 8/29 in Harrisburg

ACT UP Philadelphia released the following press release this morning.


Waheedah Shabazz, 267-231-2647,

Jose DeMarco, 267-888-0686,


Harrisburg, PA—On August 1st, 2012, Governor Corbett’s plan to eliminate General Assistance (GA) went into effect. Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer also reported that the Department of Public Welfare eliminated a Philadelphia program to help obtain Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for homeless or near-homeless people who had exceeded their five-year limit for welfare benefits.

On August 7 th, Governor Corbett’s office in Philadelphia refused to meet with activists and advocates for a planned meeting to discuss these drastic eliminations of life-saving programs. So what message is Governor Corbett sending? “It is quite clear, he is saying that people with HIV/AIDS, people with chronic illnesses, and people with disabilities don’t matter,” said ACT UP member Jose DeMarco. “We are better dead than alive to him. He thinks he can balance budgets on our backs. He thinks he can ignore us, particularly us in Philadelphia. Well, he better think again.”

In response, on Wednesday, August 29th ACT UP Philadelphia and allies will be holding a mass political funeral in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Harrisburg, complete with wooden coffin, tombstone, body bags, flowers, drums, and signs telling the effects of eliminating GA. The funeral will represent the death of GA at Governor Corbett’s hands, and the certain deaths to follow of thousands of people, especially people with disabilities and chronic illnesses such as HIV, if GA is not restored. ACT UP will bring 250 people from Philadelphia to protest, and be joined in Harrisburg by another 50 people.

“As if that were not enough, arrests for peaceful civil disobedience are also expected to truly get his attention and demand that GA be restored now!,” said ACT UP member Yetta.

What: Mass funeral procession to protest elimination of General Assistance

When: Wednesday, August 29th, 12:15pm

Where: Harrisburg, PA, starting near Mclay and N. 6th St., ending at Governor’s Mansion on N. 2nd St.

“Corbett wonders why his approval ratting keeps dropping, with the last poll giving only a 28% approval rating,” said ACT UP member Waheedah Shabazz-El. “It is in large part because Pennsylvanians are rejecting his radical agenda of corporate tax breaks and building new prisons, while increasing the cost of education, suppressing the vote, and balancing the budget on the backs of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents. Pennsylvania will not be made into the next Wisconsin, a testing ground for radical Republican efforts against poor and working people, including people living with HIV/AIDS. Governor Romney and President Obama should also take note that people living with HIV/AIDS and their allies will not sit idly by this election year, certainly not when science now tells us that we can truly end AIDS. We will ACT UP and FIGHT BACK! We will not Rest In Peace, we will Rise In Protest!”

Facts: GA is a last resort welfare cash assistance program for Pennsylvanians with disabilities, domestic violence survivors, and people in drug and alcohol treatment programs. 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 pay rent, take the bus, keep medical appointments, stay in recovery programs, afford co- pays, buy food, do laundry, etc. All adult GA recipients without children, nearly 67,000 Pennsylvanians, have now lost their GA, for many their sole source of income. GA represents less than 0.5% of the overall PA budget.

### ACT UP Philadelphia, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, is an all-volunteer organization. We are a non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and dedicated to ending the AIDS crisis through direct action.

ACT UP Philadelphia Phone: 215-386-1981



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:

Where is the help Governor Corbett promised GA recipients?

In August, 35,000 Philadelphians with disabilities will lose General Assistance, their sole source of income.

Come to the Governor’s Philadelphia Office to ask:
What happens next?

200 S. Broad Street

July 31st at 11:00am

Governor Corbett ended General Assistance, a last resort program for Pennsylvanina with disabilities, domestic violence survivors, and people in drug and alcohol treatment programs.  When he did this, he promised to “try to find alternative sources of help, including accessing federal or others tate programs.  (Philadelphia Inquirer, July 2, 2012.)

Come to the Governor’s office to ask what he has found.

Please join us to make sure the Governor lives up to his word.

For more info:

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


Lancaster Online: “Pa.’s unkindest cut gets one-month delay”

Pa.’s unkindest cut gets one-month delay
Jul 01, 2012
By GIL SMART, Associate Editor

Valerie Case was talking to a military veteran last week who received notice from the state Department of Public Welfare that his “General Assistance” monthly cash payment of $215 was being terminated. The vet, who had recently applied for Social Security disability benefits, was happy — thinking the state was cutting him off because Social Security had ruled in his favor.
Case, a paralegal at MidPenn Legal Services, broke the news gently: Social Security hadn’t ruled yet.

But Pennsylvania had, and the vet — and nearly 70,000 other Pennsylvanians who count on the monthly stipend — are being cut off.

The budget, signed by Gov. Tom Corbett last night, eliminated the $150 million General Assistance program, which since the Great Depression has provided cash assistance to single people. The program was initially slated to end today, July 1, but Democrats won a one-month delay so the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare can notify recipients — including 1,518 people in Lancaster County — that they will lose benefits.

Local social service providers are bracing for impact.

“We have a substantial number of clients who are going to be affected by this,” said Bob Thomas, president of Tabor Community Services in Lancaster. “People are very bewildered — they’re not sure what they’re going to do.”

Click here to continue reading.