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off the charts

Pennsylvania Shuts Down Its Safety Net of Last Resort

Pennsylvania ended cash assistance today for very poor residents who cannot work and don’t qualify for other assistance, joining many other states that have scaled back or eliminated their General Assistance programs even as the need has grown.

Roughly 60,000 childless adults (and the adult heads of some families) whom the state considers unemployable because of a disability or for certain other reasons — they are elderly, escaping domestic violence, or caring for a disabled family member, for example — got about $200 a month from the program.

These modest benefits helped many residents avoid or escape homelessness, get needed medical care, and otherwise meet basic daily needs.  You can hear some of their stories in this brief video, which a coalition of groups produced as part of an unsuccessful effort to save the program.

Nationally, the erosion in General Assistance programs has been proceeding for more than two decades, as our major report last fall detailed.   These cutbacks continued during and after the recent severe recession, despite high unemployment and the growing number of people who have run out of unemployment insurance without finding a job.

Almost every state that didn’t eliminate its General Assistance program provides lower benefits now than in 1998, after adjusting for inflation, as this chart from our 2011 report shows.  Benefits are worth less than one-quarter of the poverty line in most states.

By and large, the federal government has left it up to states to provide basic assistance to childless adults who need it.  States have never provided much support for this group, and the continued weakening of General Assistance programs means that more of the nation’s most vulnerable people are going to face severe hardship.