General Assistance in Pennsylvania Must be Expanded, Not Eliminated

Cutting or Gutting it Amounts to War on the Poor.

Everybody Has a Right to Live!

Both PA state Republicans and Democrats have proposals that would eliminate General Assistance (GA). We the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival say no to both proposals!

We reject the cutting or gutting of General Assistance. We need and deserve GA, housing and much more!

GA was previously ended in 2012, despite a huge resistance led by those directly impacted. Ongoing organizing by the poor and dispossessed and a legal case brought to the PA Supreme Court by Philadelphia Community Legal Services led to its reinstatement in July 2018. GA is a vital lifeline for those not eligible to receive other cash safety net assistance. This is true for places like Philadelphia — which has the highest levels of deep poverty in the country — and for counties across rural Pennsylvania.

The Republican proposal (HB 33) kills GA entirely. Despite being elected on the promise to restore GA, Governor Wolf has put forward a proposal that diverts funding to developers of affordable housing while letting GA die. This falsely divides the human right to housing from social welfare programs,when we know full well that both are vital to the survival of our people. We say: don’t rob Peter to pay Paul!

Who is impacted? Eliminating GA will affect the poor of all colors and will also disproportionately impact people of color and the most vulnerable of us:

People with disabilities, who often have to wait to years to be found eligible for Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), including:

  • veterans;
  • people getting out of prison, who are released on the streets with nothing;
  • traumatized mothers, who try to survive on zero income after the removal of our children — often due to poverty — making us ineligible for TANF welfare benefits;
  • young people aging out of foster care, who deal with the trauma that entails;
  • young people trying to survive besides a life on the streets;

as well as

  • women and all people in need of money so they can leave domestic abuse situations;
  • children under 18, who do not live with a relative or who are under 21 and in high school;
  • those caring for an unrelated child under age 13 or someone ill or disabled (who will be impacted also)
  • people in drug or alcohol programs

Therefore we say: proposals to cut or gut GA are anti-poor, anti-Black, anti-youth, anti-women, anti-family and ableist. Make no mistake: people will die.

While amounting to only about $205 per month, General Assistance can make a difference in a person being able to rent a room, buy some toothpaste, or maybe even a tent when forced to live on the street.

GA benefits have not been raised since January 1, 1990, contributing to higher levels of poverty, child removal, economic crimes and mass incarceration.

Individuals in drug or alcohol treatment programs are limited to receiving GA for 9 months in their lifetime. These time limits also apply to those who are in programs offering assistance to victims of domestic violence.

It is estimated that only 538 units of housing would be created under Governor Wolf’s proposal, while there are currently 6,500 people on GA. Re-routing the money amounts to transferring it upward to developers and ultimately making no dent in the waiting list for affordable housing. Whereas put directly into the hands of people who need it, the funds go to local businesses, childcare workers, neighbors, etc.

To solve the housing crisis, rather than eliminating GA, the Governor should look to end tax breaks for extractive industries that are destroying our communities and environment, as well as other corporations that benefit from our poverty.

The war economy claims $23 billion a year in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, 1,400 veterans sleep on the streets every night and are now at risk of having the only money for which they are eligible eliminated by bipartisan proposals in Harrisburg.

The elimination of GA makes no sense financially, as more than half of the state funds for GA will be reimbursed to State when the recipients’ applications for SSI or SSDI are accepted.

Governor Wolf’s proposal to re-route funds for General Assistance comes just days after he announced another proposal to increase the state minimum wage. We reject the premise that raising the minimum wage for some workers can be traded for throwing other workers out on the street.

We in the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival refuse to be divided into “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, low-waged and unwaged workers, and the employed and unemployed. We are all deserving, we all make a contribution to society, we are all workers. The poorer we are the harder we are forced to work. Being treated as worthless people by political leaders is in itself a form of violence that undermines our physical, mental and emotional health. Nationally, it is estimated that unwaged caregiving work contributes a whopping $237 billion or more in unpaid services to the economy and that work is unrecognized by the State.

We are coming together to demand that GA — as well as TANF and other benefits — not only be maintained but also increased, supplemented with housing benefits, and freed of time limits and work requirements. We demand fully-funded social welfare programs and an end to attacks on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and other vital programs. There are over 5 million poor and low-income people in Pennsylvania, and millions more who are one emergency away from poverty. These programs are necessary for all of us.

We will be presenting the PA Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival Moral Agenda and demands at the Pennsylvania State Capitol on Tuesday, March 19 at 2:30 p.m. in the Rotunda. Join us!

“The truth is that the millions of poor people in the United States today are poor because the wealth and resources of our country have been flowing to a small number of people and federal programs are not meeting the growing needs of the poor.” The Poor People’s Campaign — A National Call for Moral Revival

“No reason a nation as rich as ours be blighted, we don’t care about poor people except to exploit them as cheap labor.” Coretta Scott King 1968

“Billions for war and not a dollar for a child.” Nancy Carroll, occupied Capitol Rotunda to protest cuts in the 1970–80s