Poor People’s Campaign wants to remind lawmakers about General Assistance

The group argues the strong economy makes it a good time to reinstate the cash assistance program. But the GOP-controlled legislature is wary of increased spending.

The Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (Russ Walker/PA Post)

The Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (Russ Walker/PA Post)

Pennsylvania’s chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign is trying to get state lawmakers to reinstate a program that gave relatively small amounts of cash to impoverished people who didn’t qualify for other assistance.

But at a recent hearing on human services issues, many of the Republicans who run the legislature were more interested in making sure spending doesn’t get too high.

The General Assistance program officially ended in August. It had been serving about 11,000 people statewide and gave them roughly $200 per month.

That was the second time the GOP-controlled legislature had repealed it, arguing it was too difficult to prevent fraud in the program.

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As the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing on the Department of Human Services budget Wednesday, members of the Poor People’s Campaign visited the Capitol to argue for reinstating General Assistance now, while the economy is strong.

“Given that there is now over $340 million in the rainy day fund, why is there no mention of the reinstatement of General Assistance?” the group asked in a press release.

Pat Browne, the committee’s GOP chair, said he is trying to prioritize needs.

He predicted that another economic recession is probably coming, and noted, federal funds — like the one’s many Human Services programs rely on—often dry up during downturns.

Those programs, he said, are “all supported by dollars we don’t control. And that makes me really nervous.”

He added, “We’ve got to be really careful how high we’re flying in regards to the representations we’re making to our constituencies in a very vulnerable population.”

Browne and other Republicans didn’t talk specifically about General Assistance, but they were broadly skeptical about raising Human Services spending.

Governor Tom Wolf has proposed a roughly billion-dollar increase for the department. He and other Democrats tend to support reinstating General Assistance.

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