GA Cuts -- Where Do We Go From Here?
“How am I going to buy soap? Or even a new toothbrush?
Worries like these often do not cross people’s minds every day, but for Sandra, such small expenses for ordinary everyday needs are about to become a burden on her life – and she is not alone. Effective August 1, thousands of residents across the state of Pennsylvania are about to lose their sole source of income: General Assistance.
As part of the new state budget, Governor Tom Corbett implemented huge cuts surrounding human services as well as the complete elimination of General Assistance. Despite vigorous advocacy efforts, the cash grant program was officially let go. As a result, just fewer than 70,000 Pennsylvanians are about to be left in the dark, half of which live in Philadelphia alone. The $205 per month helps recipients take care of their basic needs, such as laundry and transportation costs. Now most are also at risk for becoming homeless because they cannot pay their rent.
“I have very limited options,” says Sandra, resident of Project HOME’s Connelly House. Sandra was homeless once before and now worries about living life on the street again. Over the past few years, she has lost two jobs due to the economy, and now struggles with depression on a daily basis. Sandra has depended on General Assistance only since April 2012, and has been waiting to hear about receiving Social Security Income (SSI) since September 2011.
Like many others, she depends on GA for medical expenses, such as co-pays for medications that help her battle her depression. For Sandra, insomnia has always been a struggle, but has only been intensified due to these recent policy changes. “Hopefully I will hear about it soon,” she states, “because as of now, I don’t have a backup plan.”
The General Assistance program enabled people with disabilities, women fleeing domestic violence situations, and individuals going through intensive drug and alcohol treatment programs to get back on their feet. People receiving GA often did not qualify for any other type of welfare assistance, so it was literally a last resort. Only recipients who are blind, pregnant, or already taking care of a child will still be able to receive cash assistance.
Sandra is not the only one worried: Thousands of others affected by these cuts are scrambling to find other resources to help boost their income. Several organizations across Pennsylvania that support these vulnerable populations are working hard by creating safety nets so that these individuals do not become homeless. In Project HOME alone, roughly 60 of our community members are affected by the recent cuts. Staff members are helping residents understand the changes, paperwork that may be involved, and what needs to happen to change the subsidies concerning their rent. Those who are eligible for SSI or SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) are encouraged to apply as soon as possible, especially since it may take up to a year to receive such benefits.
In addition, Project HOME offers employment services and is working with their residents who may not have worked in a long time and are interested in seeking employment or obtaining an internship. Various workshops are available to residents and the community to boost marketable skills, such as being Microsoft word or Excel proficient. Residents and other individuals affected by the General Assistance cuts are encouraged to apply for positions within Project HOME We are committed to making sure that none of our residents affected by the GA cuts will lose their housing and return to homelessness.
Sandra is not only worried about herself, but the community and the individuals that are struggling to make ends meet. To her, living in poverty may as well be a curse, and wonders what the future looks like for thousands of residents. “Just because of a few bad apples that give the poor a bad name, the whole program gets cut,” Sandra cries. “The stigma of the poor sticks around for a long time...that those on welfare are lazy and don’t want to work. General Assistance was there to help people get back on their feet. I know I wouldn’t be here without it.”
Throughout the spring, over 100 organizations statewide (including Project HOME) vigorously protested the elimination of General Assistance. Now advocates are working hard to shed light on the negative effects that cutting the cash program will have on the surrounding community. Taking charge, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia was one of the first on the scene in guiding people to understand who is affected and to what extent. CLS is also helping those facing hardship from the cash program go through an appeal process. Everyone who is getting cut from GA has the right to a face-to-face hearing concerning their eligibility and to ability to state their concerns. Currently, both CLS and Project HOME are working hard collecting stories so that people have a voice, and do not fall back into poverty unheard.
Governor Corbett himself promised, after announcing the $160 million cut to General Assistance, to “try to find alternative sources of help, including accessing federal or others state programs,” but has yet to announce a definite plan of action.
The elimination of General Assistance is going to hurt thousands of individuals, and will cost the state much more than $205 a month per person, through the use of emergency services and other resources that will used as a safety net for those cut from the program. Because of this shift, there is going to be an increasing demand in shelters and emergency rooms. Sandra expressed concern by saying “We can’t just lay down or give up. Someone must be held accountable.” For now, Sandra plays a waiting game. But she knows by telling her story, others will gain the courage to do the same. Together, we must demand answers and advocate for those who see uncertainty in the future.
For a full policy analysis surrounding the new Pennsylvania state budget, please visit http://pennbpc.org.
For more information about the appeal process, please visit http://www.clsphila.org/NewsItem.aspx?id=273.
For more information surrounding the rally, please visit http://pacaresforall.org/?p=468