Court ruling backs Pa. on ending General Assistance

    Last year, 65,000 Pennsylvanians lost their sole source of income when the state’s General Assistance program ended.

    Advocates for poor and mentally disabled Pennsylvanians led a lawsuit to reinstate those funds.



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    A ruling from the Commonwealth Court represents a setback for those plaintiffs. The court rejected the argument that the law, ACT 80, eliminating General Assistance was passed improperly.

    “We’re very, very disappointed that the court struck down the portion of the lawsuit, which was challenging the constitutionality of the portion of the law that was eliminating general assistance,” said Michael Froehlich, an attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.

    General Assistance recipients, most living in Philadelphia, had been receiving about $200 a month. The attorneys representing their case have not decided whether they will contest the Commonwealth Court decision.

    At the same time, the court ruled a challenge of the state’s human services block grant program — also introduced as a pilot program last year — can proceed to trial.

    Nils Frederiksen of the Pennsylvania Office of General Counsel dismissed the decision as only a preliminary step.

    “From an operational point of view, today is no different than yesterday or the day before,” he said. 

    The block grant pilot program gives some counties control over allocating state funds to county programs covering mental health, substance abuse and those with disabilities. It will continue will the case proceeds.

    “There’ve been concerns that under a block grant program, that money might be taken from one issue in order to fund another,” said Marianne Bellesorte of Pathways Pennsylvania.

    She said taking a second look at the program would be a positive step.

    “Everything that we’re hearing about it is kind of anecdotal evidence. So, I think that this will be maybe a great opportunity to audit the program to see how it’s affecting clients,” she said.

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