Legislators fight to bring back General Assistance Fund

HARRISBURG, Sept. 24 – Joining advocates, former recipients of General Assistance and state senators, state Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta, Melissa Shusterman and Elizabeth Fiedler repeated the call for the General Assembly to restart the program that many vulnerable residents depended on in the commonwealth.

“Ending General Assistance was one of the cruelest legislative decisions that has been made in this body since I became a member. There is no logical excuse or argument for denying support for the most vulnerable communities when they needed it most. It was like kicking them while they’re down,” Kenyatta, D-Phila., said. “That is why I’ve introduced House Bill 1709 to bring this vital resource back. I’m urging my colleagues across the aisle to understand the severity of the harm this has caused for Pennsylvania families and fix it now.”

Kenyatta is the main sponsor of H.B. 1709, which would provide emergency relief to those Pennsylvanians who previously received support through the General Assistance Fund. The program provided $200 a month in cash assistance to those who were unable to work, those caring for loved ones who were sick or disabled, veterans, victims of domestic violence and those receiving treatment for substance abuse, among others.

In June, the General Assembly voted to end the program, despite the pleas from many, including Kenyatta and Shusterman, D-Chester/Montgomery, who is the prime co-sponsor of H.B. 1709.

“For Pennsylvanians struggling to afford bare necessities, such as toiletries and lifesaving medications, $200 per month went a long way. For many, it bridged the gap to long-term independence and freedom from any government assistance. Our legislature should be focusing on ending the cycle of poverty for our most vulnerable citizens, not trapping them into it,” Shusterman said. “My colleague Representative Kenyatta and I are taking a stand by introducing this bill to provide emergency relief to those who depended on General Assistance. I stood firmly against its elimination, and I am proud to fight for its revitalization.”

Fiedler, D-Phila., was also a staunch advocate in keeping the General Assistance Fund going and is a co-sponsor of H.B. 1709.  

“Ending General Assistance was immoral, and we will continue to fight to restore General Assistance. We came together today to lift up the voices of former General Assistance recipients and to amplify their life experiences. Our neighbors and constituents used General Assistance to buy soap, feminine hygiene products and pay for bus fare to doctor appointments. It was a vital lifeline for Pennsylvanians, and we will continue to fight to bring it back,” Fiedler said. 

Last month, all three state representatives wrote a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf, asking him to declare a disaster emergency for those Pennsylvanians who lost coverage.