Kenyatta gives staunch defense of General Assistance

HARRISBURG, March 28 – In an impassioned floor speech, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Phila., spoke against Republican attacks on the “least of these” and forcefully denounced H.B. 33 which would re-enact the elimination of the general assistance cash benefit program.                                                                                                                                   

“We cannot allow a constant attack on our citizens who are already working to get out of poverty,” Kenyatta said. “This kind of legislation encourages the cycle of poverty, and will always get a ‘no’ vote from me. I introduced over a dozen amendments to save this program for particularly vulnerable constituencies. I will continue to fight for those less fortunate. If you’re on general assistance, you shouldn’t have to worry if a source of income will be taken away from you.”

Kenyatta said the general assistance program costs about $57 million dollars, just .006 percent of the total General Fund budget.

He said legislation to eliminate general assistance was introduced this year because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned a 2012 law (Act 80) that stripped money from about 60,000 general assistance recipients and eliminated the program. Following that court decision, the Department of Human Services began operating the program again.

General assistance provides approximately $200 a month to low-income and disabled Pennsylvanians in emergency situations who do not qualify for federally-funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits so they can pay for basic needs. People helped by the program include disabled veterans, those suffering domestic abuse, pregnant women, people with mental health issues, people battling substance use disorder and others who are vulnerable in society.

Kenyatta’s and other Democratic amendments to maintain the program were defeated by majority Republicans. The bill is now ready for a final vote in the House, which returns to session in April.