Pat Albright repurposes a sign to protest the elimination of General Assistance. (Photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)
By Katie Muth, Maria Collett and Lindsey Williams
This week marks the end of General Assistance (GA) as we know it. The life-saving program that has helped thousands of Pennsylvanians get back on their feet and bridge the gap to self-sustainability ended on Aug. 1.
After a difficult battle through the legislative process and an underhanded maneuver to tie the elimination of GA to millions of dollars of hospitals, we accept that the program will cease to exist. However, that does not mean that the need has vanished.
There are still thousands of people, representing every county in this state, who are about to lose $200 each month that paid for their utilities, their toiletries, their medical bills.
On the day of the vote on the Senate floor, we shared the story of John Boyd, a man who had been homeless for 25 years and the cash assistance he received from GA was what turned his life around, enabled him to get the health care that he needed, and get off of the streets and into a bed.
We are not sure what the Republicans intend to do about that need, as they cut the program after refusing to hear mitigating amendments on the Senate floor – but members of the Senate Democratic Caucus have introduced a replacement program that may meet the needs our residents are facing.
Last month, we introduced an Emergency Relief Program.
While getting these vulnerable populations stable, this program decreases the reliance on shelters, emergency hospitalizations and foster care, resulting in significant savings for Pennsylvania. The program also acts like a loan, particularly for those who ultimately receive Social Security, as the Commonwealth is repaid after the individual is fully enrolled in the federal program.
Emergency Relief is a small, yet extremely impactful program to help the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians get on a path to self-sufficiency. This program combats homelessness and the opioid crisis, as well as ensures basic stopgap protections for those who served our nation in the armed forces. This legislation provides a chance for those fighting for a better future.
Already, this bill has broad support and is co-sponsored by Democratic state Sens. Jay Costa, the Democratic floor leader, and Sens. Jim Brewster, Wayne Fontana, and Pam Iovino, all of Allegheny County; Judy Schwank, of Berks County; Steve Santarsiero, of Bucks County; Katie Muth and Andy Dinniman, of Chester County; Tim Kearney, of Delaware County; John Blake, of Montgomery County; Maria Collett and Daylin Leach, of Montgomery County; Sharif Street, Anthony Williams, Christine Tartaglione, Larry Farnese, Art Haywood, Vince Hughes and John Sabatina, all of Philadelphia.
That is why this week we sent a letter, along with House Democrats, to Gov. Tom Wolf asking him to declare a state of emergency.
The value of the GA program was the flexibility it offered to people that were desperately in need of basic resources. Housing, healthcare co-payments, transportation access, toiletries, and much more could be attained through cash assistance. But it also makes putting the puzzle back together for how to help the individuals even more difficult.
A disaster declaration will help to bring the myriad departments and programs that exist to help these individuals into one planning room.
It’s not enough to accept the loss of this program and move on to other priorities. Caring for the most vulnerable among us must remain a top priority, and it will with the Senate Democrats.
We hope to enlist more allies in this fight, because we are not giving up.
State Sen. Katie Muth, Maria Collett, and Lindsey Williams, respectively represent the Chester County-based 44th Senate District; the Montgomery County-based 12th Senate District, and the Allegheny County-based 38th Senate District. They write from Harrisburg.
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