Pennsylvania DHS General Assistance is Back!

The following was announced by Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers' Association:

PMHCA was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the PA Department of Human Services that resulted in a unanimous PA Supreme Court decision to again make General Assistance available to people in Pennsylvania. The Mental Health Association in PA, a partner in many advocacy efforts, was also one of the several plaintiffs. Disability Rights PA represented our concerns about Act 80, a piece of legislation passed in 2012 during the Corbett administration which eliminated the General Assistance category.

Community Legal Services prepared a fact sheet providing this information.

People can qualify for General Assistance if they:

  • have a temporary or permanent disability;
  • are a minor child who is not living with a relative;
  • are caring for an unrelated child under the age of 13 or are caring for someone who is ill or disabled;
  • are victims of domestic violence (limited to 9 months in a lifetime); or
  • are in a drug or alcohol treatment program that prevents them from working (limited to 9 months in a lifetime).

The maximum Cash Assistance for people with no other income is $205/month for 1 person, or $316/month for two people.

How Do I Apply?

You can apply in person at the welfare office, or online at www.compass.state.pa.us and in Philadelphia, www.clsphila.org/ga. You can also get help applying by calling BenePhilly, at 844-848-4376 or PMHCA at 800-887-6422.

What Do I Need?

To prove disability you will need to complete a welfare department medical form (Employability Assessment Form PA 1663).

To prove domestic violence you will need to complete a welfare department Domestic Violence Verification Form (PA Form 1747).

If you are in a drug and alcohol treatment program, the program will need to fill out a welfare department form showing that you are actively participating.

If you are caring for someone who has a disability, you will need to get a medical form completed by their doctor, or a letter from their doctor.

If you are caring for a child who is not related to you, you will need to explain the situation to the welfare department and provide some proof that the child is living with you; for example, a letter from a neighbor or relative, or school or medical records.

following information provided by Disability Rights Pennsylvania

What was the lawsuit all about?

In 2012, individuals and organizations affected by Act 80 filed a lawsuit and argued that the way that the state legislature passed the legislation violated the Pennsylvania State Constitution. The plaintiffs were Billie Washington, Tina Smith, Opal Gibson, Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers' Association, Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania,, the Philadelphia Alliance, Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania (DASPOP), and Success Against All Odds. 

Other organizations filed an amicus brief in support of the people who brought the lawsuit. These organizations included The Pennsylvania Immigration And Citizenship Coalition; Education Law Center of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans; Resources for Human Development, Inc.; SEIU Local 668 (The Pennsylvania Social Services Union); Coalition Against Hunger; AIDS Law Project Of Pennsylvania; HIV Policy Collaborative of Pennsylvania; COMHAR, Inc; Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania; Women’s Law Project; Philadelphia Coalition; Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia; and Common Cause of Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit was called Billie Washington, et al. v. Department of Public Welfare.  Like many other states, Pennsylvania’s constitution does not allow the bundling of disparate issues into a single bill and requires that each bill be considered on three separate days in the House and three separate days in the Senate. These constitutional provisions are intended to make sure that the public has an adequate chance to know what is being proposed, and to prevent legislators from putting unpopular provisions into “must pass” bills. 

The Court ruled that the state legislature did not consider the legislation on three separate days in the House and Senate. It also stated that Act 80 unconstitutionally bundled together disparate provisions that dealt with taxation, block grants to counties, the elimination of the GA program, and provisions that made it much harder for families to qualify for TANF cash assistance.

Why did the lawsuit take so long?

The parties that brought the lawsuit lost in Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania when it was first filed. It then took a long time to get the opportunity to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

What else did the lawsuit accomplish?

By striking down Act 80, the Supreme Court also struck down the other provisions of that law, besides the elimination of GA. This included provisions that made it harder for families with children and pregnant women to get and keep TANF cash assistance. Act 80 had required people who were applying for TANF to search for work without providing any assistance for transportation or child care, making it very difficult for families to comply. That requirement was struck down.  And families who have received TANF for less than 24 months are no longer subject to “full family” sanctions that cut off benefits to children when the mother fails to meet work rules.