Democrats launching plan to save General Assistance, again

  • Katie Meyer, WITF

(Harrisburg) — A small cash assistance program for certain poor Pennsylvanians is slated to end at the start of August, after the GOP-controlled legislature voted to repeal it.

Now, some Democratic members are drafting legislation to bring it back.

General Assistance was already repealed once, in 2012. Democratic Governor Tom Wolf reinstated it last year after the state Supreme Court ruled the original repeal unconstitutional on a technicality.

However, Wolf signed the re-repeal. Republicans forced his hand by putting money for Philadelphia hospitals in the bill.

The vote, which came amid budget negotiations, was contentious. No legislative Democrats supported the repeal.

Malcolm Kenyatta, a freshman representative from Philadelphia, is one of the members now trying to resuscitate the program.

He noted, some Republicans have defended cutting the program by saying Democrats didn’t try to reinstate it after the first repeal.

“You know from my perspective, you said nobody introduced the bill? Well I’m introducing the bill,” he said.

He’s joined in sponsorship by Chester County Representative Melissa Shusterman, and Democratic Senators Katie Muth, Lindsey Williams, Maria Collett, and Pam Iovino–of Berks, Allegheny, Bucks, and Allegheny, respectively.

Kenyatta said “one or two” Republicans have also inquired about his bill.

However, the measures aren’t likely to see overwhelming support from the GOP.

Mike Straub, a spokesman for House Republicans, said since the first General Assistance repeal, “the legislature has passed significant funding increases for human services programs every year, including this most recent budget, that help Pennsylvanians in need.”

Kenyatta maintains, General Assistance fills needs other programs can’t cover.

Jenn Kocher, a spokesman for the Senate GOP, said the caucus will consider “whatever final bill the House sends us.”

Since it was reinstated, General Assistance has given roughly 11,000 people around $200 a month.

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