In an attempt to cut state costs, the Department of Public Welfare’s (DPW) General Assistance program that provides cash assistance to 61,000 people in the commonwealth will expire August 1st. This will save the commonwealth about $319 million annually and was included in the $27.7 billion budget signed by Governor Tom Corbett June 30.
The DPW receives the largest share of the state budge. A spokeswoman said about 40¢ of every state tax dollar goes to the department.
The General Assistance program is primarily aimed at people who do not qualify for the federal cash assistance program, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Donna Morgan, a Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) spokesperson, said people qualifying for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), Medicare, Medicaid, and other benefits will still receive those benefits.
“Although the cash portion of this program is being eliminated, the medical assistance component will continue,” Morgan said. “Most of the 61,000 include single, male adults or couples who do not have children.”
The cash assistance was originally supposed to end July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, but the elimination was pushed back a month to allow more time for transitioning.
The program’s recipients get a maximum of $205 in two monthly payments. Morgan said the money left over on Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards can still be used after August 1st, but no more payments will be received. Morgan urged current recipients whose cash benefits will cease at the beginning of the month to apply for TANF and Social Security and advised checking with a county assistance office to explain an individual situation.
Rochelle Jackson, Public Policy Advocate for Just Harvest, said the county assistance office is the same as the Department of Public Welfare.
“There is nothing they can do,” Jackson said. “That was sort of the urgency that advocates were going to express throughout the state, to the governor and our Congresspeople, was that there’s nothing for these people.”
Jackson said recipients of General Assistance were required to apply for Social Security, so many of them are already receiving it. She added Just Harvest has compiled materials and is raising awareness about the issue.
DPW spokeswoman Donna Morgan said they needed to trim costs and couldn’t touch federally-mandated programs, “so we had to look at the state-only funded efforts and that is why cash assistance is within what we looked at this year in our budget decisions.”