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HB 129 Hurts Older Adults and People With Disabilities

Aging and Disabilities

HB 129 Hurts Older Adults and People With Disabilities

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Pennsylvania HB 129, which is currently being considered in the Pennsylvania state legislature, bans low income older adults and people with disabilities who have certain drug convictions from getting SSP for the rest of their lives.  SSP is the small state supplement paid to people who get SSI.

Other states have been lifting lifetime bans—as Pennsylvania did with bipartisan leadership in 2003—not re-imposing them.

Please contact your state legislators today and ask them to OPPOSE HB 129. A sample letter is attached below.

HB 129 Hurts Older Adults and People with Disabilities who have been Victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

Women’s addictions often result from domestic violence or sexual abuse, when victims of abuse try to self-medicate their pain, in the absence of other resources.   

Other individuals may have developed addictions in an effort to self-medicate serious mental illness, or severe physical pain.

When people have satisfied the penalty for their crimes, and successfully completed a term of incarceration, and are in compliance with probation and parole, they should be able to get the help they need to rejoin society and rebuild their lives.  Banning them for life because of mistakes they made while they were in addiction, often in the context of sexual abuse, domestic violence, coercion, or serious mental illness or severe physical pain is bad policy.

HB 129 Hurts Drug Treatment Programs

HB 129 denies people benefits for the rest of their life if they test positive twice, even if they participate in treatment.  Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease.  Relapse is often a part of the recovery process, and treatment programs know how to respond to relapse effectively.

Denying people benefits hurts drug treatment programs, because it is much more difficult for a program to house or care for them, if they are unable to access benefits.

Access to Public Benefits Prevents Recidivism

Research focused on the impact of banning individuals with felony drug convictions from getting benefits has shown that eligibility for public assistance “significantly reduces the risk of returning to prison.”  See C. Yang, “Does Public Assistance Reduce Recidivism?” American Economic Review (Vol. 107, Nov. 5 (2017).

The maximum SSP grant for an older adult or a person with disabilities is only $22.10/month.  For a couple it is a maximum of $33.30/month. Taking away benefits—and adding to the strain of poverty—makes it harder for a person to stay clean and stay out of jail.  As one woman put it, “now it matters because I’m trying to do the right thing.”

There are Better Ways to Address Addictions

DHS already has a system in place to refer people who apply for or receive welfare benefits and who may have a drug or alcohol problem.  They are referred to the experts in each county for assessment and treatment. Individuals who do not participate in required treatment are not eligible for benefits under current law.

Let the experts—in the criminal justice system and in the drug and alcohol treatment system—do their jobs.