I work for a kind, determined woman. She is 64 years old and disabled and has had her eye on a power chair for a while now, hoping to improve her mobility and overall health. This past Wednesday, I went over to her house and told her to try to push her insurance to buy her that chair, as she would no longer have access to her General Assistance benefits to help her out. General Assistance, one of the most important public welfare programs in the state, will be eliminated with the passage of Governor Tom Corbett’s 2012 budget.
General Assistance helps the most vulnerable of our state. The program serves the disabled, recovering addicts, domestic violence survivors, caregivers for the elderly and disabled, and children living with an unrelated adult. Those who qualify for GA are not covered by TANF or other cash assistance programs. When GA goes away, there will be no other program to absorb them. These Pennsylvanians will inevitably fall through cracks of the “safety net” programs that are meant to help citizens who can’t help themselves due to difficult circumstances.
And this safety net of about $205 a month is a necessary crutch for qualifying individuals. With that money, disabled and sick adults can pay for their food and basic amenities. Domestic violence victims can leave their abusers. Caregivers can be supported as they care for a loved one.
Cutting GA will only strengthen the cycle of hardship its recipients try so hard to break. Rather than rising out of their need for cash assistance, former GA recipients will fall further into the entanglements of poverty. They will be forced to make life-changing choices, such as, do I buy groceries this week, or do I pay my rent? Do I stay with my abuser, or do I go to a homeless shelter?
Studies show that these choices in poverty lead to much higher rates of depression. One in seven Americans below the poverty line is suffering from depression. This staggering number becomes even more alarming when you take into consideration depression’s correlation with risky behaviors. Crime rates will rise and our prisons will continue to fill to capacity. Struggling adults and parents will pack the shelters or become homeless. The elderly will have no choice but to enter state nursing homes. Ultimately, we as a state will pay far more to keep people sane and safe than to keep GA on the budget. This policy will affect every Pennsylvania resident, not just the poor.
There is no doubt that Pennsylvania must have a balanced budget. But how does cutting GA help anyone? The people on GA do not wish to be on this program. But they have been dealt a bad hand of cards and use GA to stay stable and keep trying for a better life. When recipients finally become eligible for Social Security benefits, the Department of Public Welfare is reimbursed for GA out of the disability payments. The government actually gets the money back that they are temporarily loaning out to the vulnerable in our state. And now, the governor and his team are taking that little bit of help, that little bit of hope away, and keeping their neediest residents in their already desperate conditions.
General Assistance is not the place for a budget cut. Rather than improve the state’s overall fiscal health, cutting GA only enables the poor to keep getting poorer.
So while our legislature decides whether or not to pass this proposition, I’m going to try to help my friend get her power chair, and pray that some compassion floods the minds and hearts of our state government. And I am going to encourage every single person reading this to go out and vote this November to speak up for the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable, who keep getting neglected by this administration.
by Tianna Gaines and Lili Dodderidge
Tianna Gaines is one of the original members of Witnesses to Hunger (now the Center for Hunger-Free Communities). This blog first appeared on the Center for Hunger-Free Communities website.