In July 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reinstated General Assistance, a cash stipend that previously served as a lifeline for nearly 70,000 low-income Pennsylvanians. The high court ruled that Act 80, the 2012 law ending the program, was passed despite a procedural misstep within the state legislature. Per the court’s ruling in Billie Washington v. the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, the error voids Act 80, thus allowing applicants to pursue General Assistance once again. As Philadelphia responds to epidemics of deep poverty and opioid use, the program’s renewal is truly a welcome development.
Prior to its closure, General Assistance played a critical bridging role in the Commonwealth’s network of income maintenance programs. Its recipients were individuals with substantial barriers to work who were largely ineligible for federal cash transfers. With the modest support of General Assistance’s $205 monthly grant, survivors of domestic violence, persons with chronic health conditions, and users of illicit substances in treatment programs were better positioned to weather trying circumstances. General Assistance’s support also relieved the fiscal strain on agencies that traditionally serve high-needs adults, such as housing and human services providers and state hospitals.
CEO commends the advocates who championed General Assistance and sought the overturn of Act 80. Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Success Against All Odds, and others have been engaged in a years-long battle on this issue. Their diligent work has furthered the economic security of vulnerable Philadelphians, particularly those seeking a safety net of last resort.
General Assistance application are open now via the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services COMPASS system. Visit www.compass.state.pa.us to apply. For application support, contact BenePhilly at 844-848-4376. For more information, visit Community Legal Services.