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A rocky emergency drill for aid cuts will be felt mostly in Philadelphia

An internal memo from the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare reached service providers in Philadelphia Friday. The memo outlined steps to terminate benefits for those receiving general assistance on July 1, but those recipients don’t know that yet.

The funding for cash benefits to about 70,000 clients who are disabled, receiving drug or alcohol treatment or leaving abusive homes, is eliminated in the proposed Pennsylvania budget. About 30,000 of those who would lose benefits live in Philadelphia.

That budget could pass as early as the end of this month, making a July 1 cutoff possible, if still uncertain.

“As we get the facts, then information will be distributed,” said Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman, Anne Bale.

Bale and the department did not find out the memo was in circulation until Friday afternoon. She called the document a “draft.”

“I know that [waiting on the budget] sounds very wishy-washy to people, but that is the process,” Bale adds. “That’s how it works here. Every time this year, we have to wait and see and then implement as quickly as we can.”

A nerve-wracking dry run in Philly

Kathy Wellbank, who directs a program for drug and alcohol abuse at Interim House, read the memo. She told clients.

On Friday morning she told 25-year-old Sarah Scheidecker that she would lose her benefits on July 1.

Speaking a few hours later, Scheidecker sounded anxious. She puts some of the money towards paying for her spot in a half-way house. She’s also saving for a deposit to get her own apartment and hopes to start college in the fall.

Scheidecker had heard from social service providers about the possibility of funding cuts, but the news still came as a surprise.

“I think [the DPW] should have definitely looked at situations people are in and taken that into consideration,” Scheidecker said.

Anne Bale of the DPW said the department is still in talks about what transitional assistance it can offer to clients who will lose their cash assistance.

Advocates issue dire predictions

If the recipients of benefits can’t pay their rent next month, they have few options, according to human services providers in Philadelphia. “They could go to Ridge,” said Michael Froehlich of Community Legal Services, referring to Philadelphia’s largest men’s shelter. “Oh, wait, that’s closing June 30.”

Speaking during the day on Friday, Froehlich and others who work with this population described cuts upon cuts. Froelich said he worried clients will lose their only source of income without warning, facing sudden eviction and overwhelming the city’s stretched support system.

“Can the shelters absorb more people? How are human services providers preparing for this massive influx of needy people?” asks Froehlich.

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