Advocates file suit to save cash assistance for low-income Pennsylvanians

Pat Loeb
July 23, 2019 - 3:05 pm
Pennsylvania Capitol Building in Harrisburg.

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The General Assistance program for low-income Pennsylvanians is scheduled to end on Aug. 1, but two nonprofit legal groups are trying to save it.

Community Legal Services (CLS) and Disability Rights Pennsylvania have filed a lawsuit, arguing that the state acted unconstitutionally when it voted to end the program.

They say the state violated the Pennsylvania Constitution, as it prohibits bills that cover multiple, unrelated subjects. The bill that eliminates General Assistance also authorizes hospital assessments and Medicaid payments to nursing homes. 

The bill originally only outlined General Assistance, but it was in danger of getting voted down. As part of state budgeting, lawmakers added the Medicaid and hospital provisions, according to Maria Pulzetti, a lawyer with CLS.

"Our clients are really afraid of what might happen to them after Aug. 1," said Pulzetti. "There are about 11,800 people in Pennsylvania who currently receive General Assistance as their only form of income. It's $205 a month, which sounds very minimal, but it's a really crucial bulwark against homelessness, against people falling into crisis situations with their health."

Others who benefit from the cash payments include people with disabilities, women who fled domestic violence, and children in the care of non-relatives, who could be forced into the foster care system without the assistance.

The suit asks the Commonwealth Court to block the bill from taking effect as scheduled, to avoid irreparable harm to recipients, Pulzetti said.

The state said it could not comment on pending litigation.