Disabled and Elderly Sue Pennsylvania to Restore SSI Disability and Retirement Benefits

November 30, 2010

More than 359,000 low-income elderly, disabled, and blind Pennsylvanians who are unable to work sued Pennsylvania today in Commonwealth Court to restore their full disability and retirement benefits that were reduced earlier this year without legally required notice and reviews.

People who are severely disabled or blind, and those 65 years or older who can no longer work, who have minimal resources, and a limited work history, may receive federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) of $674 per month.  Since 1974, Pennsylvania has paid an additional monthly State Supplementary Payment (SSP) to all SSI recipients.  Last February, Pennsylvania reduced the SSP by 19% to $22.10 per individual.  Individuals receiving SSI and SSP combined now receive only 78% of the federal poverty level.

The lawsuit alleges that Pennsylvania reduced the SSP without regard to required rulemaking procedures and with only 13 days notice to those affected by the cut.  When an agency seeks to amend a regulation, as the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) did here, state law requires the agency to solicit public comment and to submit the proposed amendment to the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC).  The IRRC, whose members are appointed by legislative leaders and the governor, then evaluates the proposed amendment to determine whether it is in the public interest and is consistent with state statute.  DPW failed to do so, the lawsuit states.

This class action lawsuit, Constance Naylor v. Department of Public Welfare, is being filed by Community Legal Services, a legal aid law firm in Philadelphia, and Dechert LLP, providing pro bono counsel, and will be heard in Commonwealth Court.

“It is very difficult to live on SSI alone,” said Constance Naylor, a 60-year-old disabled Philadelphia resident affected by the cuts.  “For me, the reduction of $5.30 per month was significant.  It made an impact on my monthly budget.  It equals the cost of three SEPTA tokens, or two to three co-pays for my prescription medicine, or almost two loads of laundry.  I had to cut back in other places to replace this missing money.”

“When an agency amends a regulation, it must follow the law, whether the regulation affects the poor or the rich, the young or the poor, the disabled or the able-bodied” said Michael Froehlich, an attorney with Community Legal Services.  “This suit is simply asking Pennsylvania to follow its own laws when it amends its regulations.”

The lawsuit asks the Commonwealth Court to reinstate the SSP benefit to its earlier amount and refund the money to those whose SSP was reduced since February 2010.

To view the full petition, click here (pdf).


Loss of a dear friend

November 9, 2010

The legal services community is mourning the loss of long time activist Paul Lodico.

Paul was the co-coordinator and one of the founders of the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee. I still remember him with his black and yellow Mon Valley T-shirt (Pittsburgh Steelers colors, of course), matching baseball cap tilted back on his head, leading a delegation of similarly attired folks. Read the rest of this entry »


LIHEAP applications now being accepted

November 9, 2010

On November 1, the Department of Public Welfare began accepting applications for LIHEAP.  The LIHEAP cash program will pay up to $400 for families who need help paying their heating costs during the winter.  The LIHEAP crisis program will pay up to $400 in additional money if the family’s utility has been shut off or if threatened to be shut off.

Families can receive up to 160% of the poverty level to qualify for LIHEAP.  For a family of four, that’s $35,390 per year or $2940 per month.

In Philadelphia, LIHEAP is usually sent directly to PECO or PGW and credited to the family’s account.

For more information and to download LIHEAP Applications in English and Spanish, click here.  To apply online, go to

1348 W. Sedgley Avenue (near Broad and Allegheny)
Philadelphia, PA 19132
Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
FAX:  215-560-2260

CLS advocates can help with problems that families face obtaining LIHEAP or a gas or electric utility shut-off.  We see new clients every weekday from 9-12 at 1424 Chestnut Street or Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9-12 at our North Philadelphia office at 3638 North Broad (at Erie.)

(image courtesy of DPW.)


Inquirer’s Portrait of Hunger Series Shines Light on Hunger in the City

November 8, 2010

It’s easy, sometimes, to forget about poverty and other issues that CLS clients face when you don’t have to live with it everyday.  That’s why it’s good to see the Philadelphia Inquirer’s ongoing series about hunger in the First Congressional District called A Portrait of Hunger.

Al Lubrano, the reporter, does a great job investigating why so many people in Philadelphia today continue to go hungry.  In Friday’s story, for example, Mr. Lubrano talks to Myra Young and her four-year-old son, Todd.  According to the story, Ms. Young is an unemployed nursing assistant who lost her job two years ago when her son was hospitalized for two months with chronic asthma.

The story highlights many issues, including that in the last year alone, the Philadelphia County Assistance Office has lost 110 staff while food stamp and Medicaid (also known as Medical Assistance) rolls have increased dramatically.  (The number of people who receive TANF cash assistance has remained stable or has had only a negligible increase.)

The result is that the County Assistance Office has to do more with less and is frequently overwhelmed.  It’s not uncommon for papers to be misplaced and food stamps or other critical services to be delayed.  In fact, a large part of CLS’s public benefits caseload consists of helping people whose benefits have been terminated because the County Assistance Office has misplaced their paperwork or have not had the resources to process it timely.

The complete series on hunger issues is available online at the Inquirer now.  It’s worth the read.

(image courtesy of the Inquirer.)


73 Weeks of UI Benefits Will Be Eliminated and 280,000 Pennsylvanians Will Exhaust Their Benefits, Unless Congress Acts

November 5, 2010

Unless Congress extends Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) and federal coverage of Extended Benefits (EB), over 280,000 Pennsylvanians will exhaust their Unemployment Insurance (UI) by the end of April, 2011.  80,000 people in PA will lose their benefits in December alone, smack in the middle of the holiday season.

Why?  When the recession started, Congress extended the maximum claim for UI benefits for Pennsylvanians from the usual 26 weeks to 99 weeks.  The bill that extends the benefits to 99 weeks will expire at the end of November, at which point the maximum length of a UI claim in Pennsylvania would return to only 26 weeks.  With no more than 26 weeks of UI, people will start exhausting their benefits in unconscionably high numbers at a time when unemployment stands at 9% in Pennsylvania and 40% of those unemployed have been out of work for more than 26 weeks.  26 week is just not enough of a safety net to help people in this dismal economy.

 

Cumulative UI exhaustees in Pennsylvania (thousands) 4-2010 through 4-2011 Read the rest of this entry »


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