Wolf meets with protesters outside his home to talk General Assistance

Governor Tom Wolf says he doesn't want to get rid of the General Assistance program, but he's navigating tricky negotiations with Republicans. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Governor Tom Wolf says he doesn't want to get rid of the General Assistance program, but he's navigating tricky negotiations with Republicans. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

On Thursday afternoon, a group of uninvited visitors turned up at Governor Tom Wolf’s York County home.

They were protesting what they saw as Wolf’s willingness to compromise with Republicans on getting rid of a small cash assistance program for the poor.

Wolf, meanwhile, said he’s just trying to be realistic.

The General Assistance program gives small sums of cash — roughly $200 a month — to the poorest people in Pennsylvania who don’t have dependents and don’t qualify for other assistance.

Republicans got rid of the program in 2012, but the state Supreme Court revived it on a technicality and Wolf reinstated it last year. Since then, it has served under 10,000 people and Wolf has said it would cost about $50 million to maintain.

Its fate will almost certainly be decided in next year’s budget, which lawmakers are negotiating now.

Emmie DiCicco, an organizer with the Poor People’s Campaign who rallied outside Wolf’s house, said letting the program go would be unacceptable.

“We would like [Wolf] to send back any budget that eliminates and guts General Assistance,” she said, adding that she thinks getting rid of it “will cause people to die.”

The Poor People’s Campaign has met with both Wolf and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman about the issue. After the activists parked themselves in the road in front of Wolf’s house, Fetterman took to Twitter to say the protest “crosses a line.”

When he eventually made it home to meet with the protesters, Wolf had an amicable chat with them.

He reassured them that he intends to push hard for General Assistance in budget negotiations, though wouldn’t commit to vetoing a budget over it, saying the rest of the General Assembly might overrule him in that scenario.

Michael Pollack, a rabbi and organizer who was part of the meeting, said afterward that while Wolf didn’t give a “full commitment” to veto any budget without General Assistance, “his actions today illustrate the power of people’s movements and nonviolent civil disobedience.”

Pollack said he was pleased with the governor’s apparent stance on the issue and vowed that if Wolf “does not defend General Assistance from elimination in any form, we will continue to use nonviolent civil disobedience across the state.”

Despite his stated desire to maintain General Assistance, Wolf has also offered a compromise to Republicans: moving the $50 million to a housing assistance program instead.

“I’m dealing in the real world,” he told reporters earlier this week. “I’m trying to do what I can to make sure we keep it, or as much of it as we can — that’s something that’s still under conversation.”

Republicans argue there isn’t enough oversight involved in how General Assistance money is spent.

The budget deadline is June 30.

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