Why General Assistance is a Program Worth Saving

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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 pacaresforall.org or contact Michael Froehlich (mfroehlich@clsphila.org / 215-981-3707) or Louise Hayes (lhayes@clsphila.org / 215-227-4734)

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