Advocates press Pa. to restore cash benefit for poor, disabled

A Pennsylvania judge will decide whether to stop changes to public welfare programs approved in June by state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett.

Advocacy groups have several problems with changes enacted by Act 80.

They don’t like the elimination of General Assistance, the Depression-era cash grant program for the poor and disabled.

And they don’t like how the law was passed.

It doesn’t just cut General Assistance — it changes seven different welfare programs.

Michael Froehlich, an attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, says the move broke a rule requiring that a piece of legislation only deal with a single subject.

“The way that Act 80 was enacted violated the Pennsylvania state Constitution because it rolled these seven very different changes into one bill,” he said.

Commonwealth attorneys argue the measure did have a unifying purpose: public welfare programs.

Act 80 affects things such as nursing home assessments and welfare-to-work programs. It also created a pilot program for counties wishing to have more discretion over how to allocate funds for human services.

“We believe that if the Legislature had to vote up or down on whether to eliminate General Assistance, and that was the sole issue presented, and now that … they’ve learned more about the heart-breaking consequences of eliminating General Assistance, that the vote very likely would come out in a different way,” Froehlich said Tuesday.

About 70,000 Pennsylvanians received an average of $200 a month from the program. Most live in Philadelphia.

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