Days before Christmas the Pennsylvania Supreme Court voted to deny a critical lifeline to people in need.
Specifically, the Supreme Court ruled that it was OK for the lower Commonwealth Court to rule that the groups challenging a law that eliminated Pennsylvania’s general cash assistance program were not likely to win their case. Therefore, the state had no obligation to restore the monthly relief to some 11,000 Pennsylvanians in need while the underlying case moves through the courts.
General Assistance should never have been eliminated in the first place. And the disgraceful and cowardly decision to remove this lifeline instead of standing up for the most vulnerable among us will begin to more thoroughly ripple throughout the commonwealth. To say that I am angry by this ruling and the way people living in poverty and in distress are treated in Pennsylvania is an understatement. This is a travesty of justice and appalling indifference toward struggling Pennsylvanians.
The program provided roughly $200 a month to help people in need afford life’s bare necessities – assistance that is later reimbursed to states by the federal government. It was eliminated during 2019-20 state budget negotiations in a so-called compromise over other budgetary issues. Bear in mind that legislators receive almost this amount daily for days in which we are in legislative session.
It is immoral to attack families living below the poverty line, veterans, domestic violence survivors and people in active drug treatment, but that’s exactly what their government is doing to them in eliminating GA. We are talking $24.5 million in a $34 billion dollar budget. I don’t know how the legislators who voted to end this critical program and the justices who backed them up justify this to themselves or look the folks they are hurting in the eye and tell them that their lives are just not worth it.
Our obligation as public servants is to do what’s in the best interest of all Pennsylvanians, not just those who see programs and services for the poor as something that can be bargained away. However, that’s the exact message sent to those on this program back in June when they ended it. And now our state’s highest court refuses to judge the eliminated program on its merits, washing their hands of it as they send the case back to the lower courts for what will no doubt be prolonged litigation.
I refuse to give up on people who are regularly given no voice in our halls of government, and I continue to look for other ways to reinstate this small benefit to Pennsylvanians in distress. After the program was eliminated, I introduced legislation (H.B. 1709) with state Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-Chester, that would connect people who were kicked off GA with emergency relief. Our bill has languished in the House Health Committee ever since.
As we head into the new year and a new decade, I ask my colleagues to seriously think about our moral obligations to those we serve.
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta represents the 181st Legislative District in Philadelphia.