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June 26, 2019

State rep: General Assistance in Pennsylvania is a financial lifeline

$200 monthly check helps most vulnerable afford basic necessities, Shusterman writes

News Opinion
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A KHN analysis of new data from the University of Michigan suggests that hundreds of suicides by older adults each year — nearly one per day — are related to long-term care. Up to a third in such settings report suicidal thoughts, research shows.

A few days ago, House Republicans voted to eliminate a state program that provides roughly $200 per month to Pennsylvania adults who are temporarily or permanently unable to work. This General Assistance program costs $50 million per year and helps more than 10,000 Pennsylvanians.

While $200 a month may seem insignificant to some in the legislature, it serves as a financial lifeline to our commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents.

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Adults with temporary or permanent disabilities, those caring for a severely ill or disabled loved one, adults in full-time substance abuse rehabilitation programs, displaced domestic abuse survivors and people waiting for their social security benefits to kick in, these are the populations that benefit from receiving $200 a month.

These cash grants increase quality of life and allow for “dignity purchases,” in other words, the everyday things that we take for granted. In fact, this $200 is spent on necessities such as transportation, housing and toiletries. It keeps a roof over people's heads, the lights on, and food on the table.

General Assistance is one of the cheapest and more effective human services programs in Pennsylvania.

Many of my colleagues welcome a $200 per diem to live and work comfortably during their time in Harrisburg, a practice that I have personally chosen to reject. Simply put, there is an irony here that is difficult to ignore. Surely, if $200 is justifiable when considering the comforts and needs of legislators, $200 a month for our most vulnerable citizens is a no-brainer.

Our local community and faith-driven organizations have made their voices heard on this issue. I stand with organizations like Chester County Food Bank, Women’s Law Project, Keystone Research, PA Budget & Policy Center, Beth Israel Congregation of Chester County, Disability Rights PA, PA Catholic Conference, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of PA, and a full list of nearly 150 others in the fight to protect General Assistance. No Pennsylvanian should have to struggle with providing necessities for themselves and their families.

I ran for office because I wanted to make our state better for my constituents here in the 157th and all Pennsylvanians. I believe strongly in my role as a legislator to improve society, provide equality of opportunity, and fight for the most vulnerable citizens of our state. The elimination of General Assistance goes against all of that. It is an attack on the Pennsylvanians we should be most focused on helping. General Assistance helps people through the most difficult periods of their lives and allows them to stabilize themselves economically and rise out of poverty, generating huge economic benefits for our state. We should be supporting this program, not defunding it.

For Pennsylvanians struggling to obtain the bare necessities, $200 can make all the difference in the world. General Assistance is one of the cheapest but also more effective human services programs in Pennsylvania. Not only do House Republicans want to completely defund this program, but they have also refused to move the money spent on General Assistance to any other state assistance program. This is wrong. We should be helping struggling Pennsylvanians, not hurting them.

I stand firmly against the elimination of General Assistance. I will not turn my back on the people struggling in our state. I urge Governor Wolf to veto this bill.

Melissa Shusterman is the state representative in the 157th District covering parts of Chester and Montgomery counties.