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Important Information About Pennsylvania General Assistance

Public Benefits

Important Information About Pennsylvania General Assistance

Date Posted: 
08/15/2018

On July 18, 2018, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in a unanimous decision, found that Act 80 of 2012 was enacted in a manner that violated the Pennsylvania Constitution.  Act 80 did many things, including eliminating the General Assistance (GA) cash assistance program.  General Assistance provides a small monthly grant--approximately $200--to qualified individuals.

Certain low-income Pennsylvanians can now apply for General Assistance again.  This page has helpful information on who is eligible for General Assistance and how to apply.  It also includes some information on the lawsuit.

You can also learn more about General Assistance by viewing our webinar.

ELIGIBILITY

Who is eligible to receive General Assistance?

People can qualify for General Assistance if they have very low income and savings (see below), and they:

  1. Have a temporary or permanent disability.  The disability or illness must be verified by a doctor or certain other medical providers (as described below).

EXAMPLE: John experiences severe depression. He cannot currently work.  His psychiatrist verifies that, due to his depression, he is not able to work right now.  John can get GA for the duration of his disability.

  1. Are a victim/survivor of domestic violence who is not eligible for TANF cash assistance (for example, because she does not have children under 18 or her children do not live with her.)

NOTE: This category is limited to nine months in a lifetime.  

EXAMPLE: Maria is staying at her sister’s house after fleeing her abuser.  

  1. Are in a drug or alcohol treatment program that prevents them from working.  The treatment program verifies that the individual is in treatment.

NOTE: This category is limited to nine months in a lifetime.

EXAMPLE: James participates in a drug or alcohol treatment program.  His treatment program verifies that, due to his participation in the program, he is not able to work right now.

  1. Are a child who is not living with a relative.

EXAMPLE:  Julia, a family friend, is caring for her neighbor’s 10-year-old son Andrew while her neighbor is incarcerated.  Julia can get GA for Andrew.

  1. Are caring for a person with a disability or for a child under age 13 who is not related to them.

EXAMPLE:  Julia is caring for her neighbor’s 10-year-old son Andrew while her neighbor is incarcerated.  If Julia has very low income and savings, Julia can get GA.

  1. Are between the ages of 18 and 21 and a full-time secondary school student who expects to graduate before age 21 (and who do not qualify for TANF).

What if an individual fits into more than one category?

General Assistance based on domestic violence OR on participation in a drug and alcohol treatment program is limited to only nine months in a lifetime.  General Assistance based on a temporary or permanent disability lasts as long as the disability lasts.  Therefore, it is best for people with temporary or permanent disabilities who may fit into more than one category to get General Assistance on the basis of their disability.  They may need their time-limited benefits later.

Does General Assistance have any income or asset limits?

Yes.  In addition to fitting into one of the categories above, individuals must generally have less than $205 in monthly income. 

In Philadelphia, Allegheny, and many other counties, $205 a month is the income limit.  Other counties have somewhat different monthly income limits.  See here for the list.  The “Family Size Allowance” is both the GA grant amount in that county, and the income limit in that county. 

In addition, individuals must have less than $250 in countable assets (or $1,000 if there is more than one person in the GA budget group).  Your house and one car do not count as assets.

How much money is General Assistance?

The General Assistance amount varies from county to county, but most counties pay up to $205/month for one person and $316/month for two people.  See here for the list of “Family Size Allowances” by county.

Do people who receive General Assistance have to pay it back?

Generally no, but with one big exception.  People who are receiving GA based on a disability expected to last 12 months or more must seek SSI or Social Security disability benefits.  If they win their disability case, they will have to repay the GA they received while their case was pending at Social Security.  DHS will be repaid out of the individual’s back SSI.

HOW TO APPLY FOR GENERAL ASSISTANCE

Where does someone apply for General Assistance?

There are two ways to apply for General Assistance.  First, someone can apply online at www.compass.state.pa.us.  Second, someone can submit an application by mail or in person to their nearest County Assistance Office.  A list of County Assistance Offices across Pennsylvania can be found by clicking here.

How does one apply for General Assistance?

People who want to apply for General Assistance must complete an application form, either online or in-person.  The in-person application form can be downloaded and printed at the link at the bottom of this page.  Depending on which category someone fits into, they must also provide verification of their disability; participation in a drug or alcohol treatment program; verification of domestic violence; or verification that they are caring for a child not related to them.  The forms to verify each of these situations are also available at the links at the bottom of this page.

Starting in September 2018, Philadelphians can get help with applying through BenePhilly. This is a program funded by the City to help Philadelphians to get benefits they need. You can get help over the phone by calling (844) 848-4376. You can also get in-person help at one of the BenePhilly sites across the City. 

When can one apply for General Assistance?

Now.  

What happens after one applies for General Assistance?

After an individual applies for General Assistance, he or she will be scheduled for a face-to-face interview at their local County Assistance Office, and given a list of documents to submit to “verify” their eligibility.

When will an individual’s General Assistance start?

The start date for an individual’s General Assistance is the day that the person verified to the welfare office that they met all the eligibility requirements, including having a face-to-face interview. Unfortunately, while DHS is taking applications for GA now, it doesn’t yet have systems in place to issue benefits.  We expect they will start issuing benefits later in the fall.  People should still apply before then.  When benefits are finally issued, they should go back to when the person established their eligibility.

Are individuals entitled to receive General Assistance retroactive to 2012 when the program ended?

No, unfortunately that is not a possibility. 

Can someone receive General Assistance if they receive Social Security or SSI?

No.  People who receive Social Security or SSI receive too much income to qualify for GA. If these benefits stop they can qualify.

Can someone receive General Assistance if they also receive SNAP (food stamps) or Medical Assistance?

Yes.  If someone is already receiving SNAP or Medical Assistance (MA or Medicaid), they can now also apply for General Assistance. DHS should not ask them to submit paperwork that they already submitted for their SNAP or MA case.

What should someone do if they are denied General Assistance but believe that they should be eligible?

If someone applies for General Assistance and is denied, they can appeal.  In Philadelphia, people can come to Community Legal Services (CLS) for help with appeals.  CLS meets with people with issues about General Assistance, TANF, SNAP (food stamps), and Medicaid (Medical Assistance) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 9:00am and noon.  Our office is at 1410 W. Erie Ave. (Broad & Erie.).  Be sure to appeal within 30 days of the date of the notice denying your applicationHere is our flyer on how to file an appeal.  In other counties, contact the local legal services program.

Can immigrants get GA?

Yes, if they are poor enough and fit within one of the categories.  Immigrants must have a status that permits them to live in the United States to qualify for GA.  Undocumented immigrants cannot get GA.

What counts as a disability for GA?

Both physical and mental health disabilities count, and the disability may be of any duration.  If a medical provider completes the PA 1663 form saying the person is disabled, the person can receive GA for the duration of their disability as stated on the form (if they otherwise qualify).  Some people might qualify because of a broken leg, or while they recover from surgery.  Others may have chronic conditions like diabetes and need GA for a longer period.  The form can be renewed if necessary.  

The form is confusing because it was created for one purpose years ago, and is now used for many purposes.  It is asking whether the person’s medical condition affects their employability, and how long the medical condition will last.  DHS knows that many people characterized as “disabled” by this form can work at least a little – in fact, it uses this this form to verify if someone who is working qualifies for Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities.

In some cases it will be helpful if the form states that the disability started in the past.  

Can someone with a criminal record get GA?

Yes, as long as they are not violating probation or parole, and there is no warrant out for their arrest.  And they must have paid off their criminal fines and costs or be up-to-date with a payment plan.  Philadelphians can get more information here on getting into a payment plan.

If your Philadelphia fines and costs were sent to a collection agency, you will not be able to get a payment plan at the Criminal Justice Center.  A private collection agency called Credit Management Company (CMC) is in charge of accepting payments on those cases. You may be able to get a payment plan with CMC by calling them at (866) 368-1563.

 

INFORMATION ABOUT THE LAWSUIT

What was the lawsuit all about?

In 2012, individuals and organizations affected by Act 80 filed a lawsuit and argued that the way that the state legislature passed the legislation violated the Pennsylvania State Constitution.  The plaintiffs were Billie Washington, Tina Smith, Opal Gibson, Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers' Association, Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania,, the Philadelphia Alliance, Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania (DASPOP), and Success Against All Odds.  

Other organizations filed an amicus brief in support of the people who brought the lawsuit.  These organizations included The Pennsylvania Immigration And Citizenship Coalition; Education Law Center of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans; Resources for Human Development, Inc.; SEIU Local 668 (The Pennsylvania Social Services Union); Coalition Against Hunger; AIDS Law Project Of Pennsylvania; HIV Policy Collaborative of Pennsylvania; COMHAR, Inc; Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania; Women’s Law Project; Philadelphia Coalition; Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia; and Common Cause of Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit was called Billie Washington, et al. v. Department of Public Welfare.   Like many other states, Pennsylvania’s constitution does not allow the bundling of disparate issues into a single bill and requires that each bill be considered on three separate days in the House and three separate days in the Senate..  These constitutional provisions are intended to make sure that the public has an adequate chance to know what is being proposed, and to prevent legislators from putting unpopular provisions into “must pass” bills.  

The Court ruled that the state legislature did not consider the legislation on three separate days in the House and Senate.  It also stated that Act 80 unconstitutionally bundled together disparate provisions that dealt with taxation, block grants to counties, the elimination of the GA program, and provisions that made it much harder for families to qualify for TANF cash assistance.

Why did the lawsuit take so long?

The parties that brought the lawsuit lost in Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania when it was first filed.  It then took a long time to get the opportunity to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

What else did the lawsuit accomplish?

By striking down Act 80, the Supreme Court also struck down the other provisions of that law, besides the elimination of GA.  This included provisions that made it harder for families with children and pregnant women to get and keep TANF cash assistance.  Act 80 had required people who were applying for TANF to search for work without providing any assistance for transportation or child care, making it very difficult for families to comply. That requirement was struck down.   And families who have received TANF for less than 24 months are no longer subject to “full family” sanctions that cut off benefits to children when the mother fails to meet work rules.

Certain very low-income parents may now qualify for Medical ASsistance because Act 80 was struck down.

 

HELPFUL DOCUMENTS & FORMS

Application for General Assistance (PA 600)

Employability Assessment Form used to verify permanent or temporary disability (PA-1663)

Verification that an individual is participating in a drug or alcohol treatment program (PA-1672)

Verification of domestic violence (PA-1747)

DHS Information Memorandum to its County Assistance Office caseworkers on accepting General Assistance applications, 8/10/18

DHS Operations Memorandum #18-08-01 on the elimination of the TANF Applicant Job Search

Information for Medical Providers on DHS's Employability Assessment Form

Changes to TANF Cash Assistance

Flyer Regarding General Assistance (to print and distribute)

DOCUMENTS RELATED TO THE LAWSUIT

Petition for Review filed in 2012

     Exhibits A-G

     Exhibit H

     Exhibits I-K

     Exhibits L-M

Amicus Briefs filed in support of the parties that brought the case

Commonwealth Court decision upholding Act 80

Main Brief and Reply Brief to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision striking down Act 80