Cash assistance for disabled Pennsylvanians will be eliminated, as Wolf says he will sign budget bill

By: - June 28, 2019 12:11 pm
Pat Albright repurposes a sign to protest the elimination of General Assistance. (Photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Pat Albright repurposes a sign to protest the elimination of General Assistance. (Photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Gov. Tom Wolf says he will sign a budget bill that eliminates a state-run cash benefits program for poor Pennsylvanians with disabilities, in treatment for addiction, and fleeing domestic violence.

The legislation was amended by House Republicans during the budget process to also reauthorize and expand a key Philadelphia hospital assessment that delivers millions in revenue and expires June 30.

“… I lament some of what we were not able to pass,” Wolf said in a statement, adding that he will continue fighting for a higher minimum wage and “for support for our most vulnerable neighbors.”

“That’s why even though the Legislature eliminated General Assistance, I made sure to include an additional $15 million for low-income housing assistance,” he continued. “This will help a lot of the same individuals who previously received General Assistance from the commonwealth. It will provide valuable resources to make sure they have a roof over their head. But there is more we can and should do to lift people out of poverty.”

General Assistance is a roughly $200-a-month cash payment that serves more than 11,000 people, including Pennsylvanians with disabilities, those in treatment for addiction, and people fleeing domestic violence. It was eliminated by Republican ex-Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature in 2012, but revived by a 2018 state Supreme Court decision.

Under the bill, the program will end Aug. 1.

The elimination legislation was the source of a chaotic blow-up in the Senate between Democrats, GOP leadership, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who presides over the chamber. Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, shouted at Fetterman to “follow the rules!” after Fetterman allowed Sen. Katie Muth, D-Chester, to enter remarks from a General Assistance recipient into the record.

House Republican leadership moved to close debate on the bill and not allow Democrats to offer amendments.

Democrats storm off the floor as Senate sends bill eliminating cash assistance for disabled Pennsylvanians to Gov. Wolf

Wolf said he favored keeping the program and proposed allocating $34.177 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1 to serve just under 14,000 people.

He previously called the House Republican amendment a “smart tactic.”

“We’re between a rock and a hard place here,” Wolf said on a live WITF call-in show, noting that Republican leaders were dead set on eliminating the program. “What do we do?”

Speaking to reporters Friday afternoon, Wolf said it was a “bad choice” he had to make. He added that his administration is working on “ways to make sure that people who depended on” General Assistance are taken care of; he declined to elaborate on what those options may be.

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Sarah Anne Hughes
Sarah Anne Hughes

Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.