In this week’s CTA, we urged you to call your state reps to ask them to protect a monthly cash assistance program called General Assistance. We didn’t want to throw that out there to you without a little history and a more in-depth explanation of what the program entails. So here you go!
PA Department of Human Service’s General Assistance is a state-funded program for individuals who don’t qualify for the federally-funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefit (TANF).
Below are the requirements for eligibility.
The individual cannot be eligible for TANF and must be one of the following:
• A child under age 18; or
• A child, age 18 through 20, attending secondary school or a secondary-level vocational or technical school and expected to graduate before age 21; or
• Parents in a two-parent household with their child who is under age 13; or
• Parents in a two-parent household with their child who has a disability and is under age 21; or
• An adult with a physical or mental disability that is temporary or permanent and prevents you from working in any gainful employment; or
• A person undergoing active treatment in an approved drug or alcohol program if the treatment program precludes any form of employment (You have a nine-month limit during your lifetime to receive GA benefits for this reason); or
• A victim of domestic violence or another abusive living situation. (You have a nine-month limit during your lifetime to receive GA benefits for this reason); or
• A pregnant woman (not eligible for TANF); or
• An adult other than a relative who is caring for a child under age 13; or
• An adult who is caring for another person in the household who is ill or disabled, if no other adult in the household is capable of providing the care
In addition to the above requirements, individuals must have less than $250 in countable resources to be able to receive assistance. (A home or car are not considered countable resources.) Those who receive Social Security or SSI do not qualify for General Assistance, but if a person receives SNAP or Medicaid they can apply.
Amounts people receive vary based on county. Below are the figures for Berks County.
According to PA DHS, where I found this chart, these amounts were issued in 2001 and reviewed in 2012.
In 2012, the Republican controlled PA Legislature and then Governor Corbett eliminated the program, citing the fiscal impact on the Commonwealth. At the time General Assistance benefited 60,000 individuals, many of whom were disabled, and cost the state $150 million annually- just a tiny fraction of the $27 billion budget for the year. The death of the bill began like many things in government-by a thousand small cuts. It started with a 3-page piece of legislation in 2011 that dealt with residency requirements, but by the time it reached Governor Corbett’s desk in 2012 it had, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “morphed into an omnibus human services bill ending General Assistance, creating a pilot program for 20 counties to consolidate a number of human service programs into a single block grant, changing the timing of a work requirement for Pennsylvanians applying for welfare, and imposed a tax on nursing homes, among other changes.”
Act 80 was the law that appealed the program in 2012. A number of human service groups and former recipients sued the state. In July of 2018, the PA Supreme Court struck down Act 80, ruling that the legislative process used to pass it was unconstitutional, and the General Assistance program was reinstated. Now lawmakers in Harrisburg are trying to take it away again.
Many of the people who benefit from the General Assistance program are those who fall into the gap created while waiting for Social Security disability determinations. They’re people who require temporary assistance and who are ineligible for other types of relief. They’re not looking to become wards of the state. They just need a little help. When 40% of Americans don’t have $400 in savings, it’s not a stretch to say many of us could easily find ourselves in such a situation in the event of an unforeseen crisis. What does it say about us as a community, if we’re not willing to give a hand up to a neighbor in need?
posted by Amy Levengood
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