General Assistance Program: Why deny minimal assistance to our most vulnerable?

Dear Friends,

I want to alert you about a move afoot in the legislature to kill — for a second time — the state’s General Assistance program, a modest effort started in the 1960s to lend a hand to the commonwealth’s most vulnerable, the vast majority of whom are people with permanent or temporary disabilities.

The program provides cash grants that come to about $200 a month — sometimes it’s a little more, sometimes a little less, depending on the local cost of living — and are meant to help people applying for Social Security disability income to tide over the two years it can take to receive Social Security disability. The federal government reimburses the state when Social Security disability income is approved.

People in rehab and victims of domestic violence displaced from their homes can apply as well. Grants to people who fall into those categories are capped at nine months over one’s lifetime.

General Assistance was started in the 1960s, shut down by the Republican legislature in 2012, then reinstated last June by the state Supreme Court, which ruled that killing the program was unconstitutional because the shut-down wasn’t performed correctly. Now the majority in Harrisburg is seeking to make that “right” — by shutting down the program for good, either through revised legislation or the budget process.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2019-20 $34 billion budget includes $50 million for the program. That’s a fraction of 1% of the total proposed budget for a program that currently serves more than 3,000 Philadelphians and many others statewide.

Ending General Assistance grants exerts added pressure on local charities and shelters already stretched dangerously thin. But beyond that, I believe it is inhumane. Here in Pennsylvania, we are a commonwealth, which is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good. Where is the public good in denying minimal assistance to our most vulnerable?

Where is the common good in further hurting those who need help the most?

This month, as budget negotiations play out, I will keep our neediest in mind and vote accordingly. I will also keep you apprised of any developments in this particular fight, which isn’t simply about numbers. It’s about people, fellow citizens of the commonwealth, who need our help.


Steve McCarter
Pennsylvania State Representative
Serving Cheltenham Township, Springfield Township and Jenkintown Borough