Materials from Townhall on Elimination of General Assistance (and other recent DPW changes)

August 6, 2012

On Thursday, July 26, Community Legal Services held a townhall to discuss recent changes in programs administered by the Department of Public Welfare.  The townhall discussed the elimination of General Assistance and changes to the welfare-to-work system, Medical Assistance, and food stamps (SNAP) benefits.

To listen to a podcast of the presentation courtesy of the Philadelphia Bar Association, please click here.

Materials distributed at the townhall are listed below:

Speak out about the Phila. Water Department’s request to raise your bill

July 5, 2012

  • Did you know that the Philadelphia Water Department’s (PWD) proposed rate increase would raise your water and sewer rates by 28.5% over less than 3 years? That’s about $196 more per year! Yet the PWD has more than $150 million in a fund that is supposed to prevent shocking rate increases like this one.
  • Will your income increase at the same rate over 3 years?
  • Has the Water Revenue Bureau (WRB) refused to listen to your concerns about your PWD water bill and failed to provide any real help?
  • Have you ever tried to get a WRB hearing after denial of an application for service or after the WRB has refused to offer you an affordable payment agreement to avoid service shut-off?
  • Did you know that the WRB has a program, called WRAP, to help low income families afford service?
  • Do you have questions about the storm water rate and how it will change?

The Water Department claims that it needs $318 million more over the next four years. This claim is based on unproven estimates and financial forecasts.

We need your help convincing the Philadelphia Water Commissioner and the Rate Case Hearing Officer that this proposed rate increase is not right, and will be a burden on Philadelphia customers who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Come SPEAK OUT About the Water Department’s Request to Raise Your Bill

Locations and Dates:

Center City—Monday, July 9, 10 a.m.-noon, Philadelphia Senior Center—509 S. Broad Street

Northwest Philadelphia—Tuesday, July 10, 6-8 p.m., Roxborough Memorial Hospital—5800 Ridge Avenue

Northeast Philadelphia—Thursday, July 12, 6-8 p.m., Holy Family College, Campus Center Conference Room 115—9801 Frankford Avenue

North Philadelphia—Monday, July 16, 6:30-8:30 p.m., YMCA—1400 N. Broad Street (Broad and Master St.)

West Philadelphia—Tuesday, July 17, 6:30-8:30 p.m., White Rock Baptist Church—5240 Chestnut Street

If you want more information about how to participate in or speak at these important hearings, please call Water Public Advocate, Community Legal Services at 215-981-3746.

Latest DPW figures bring bad news

June 10, 2012

The Department of Public Welfare’s latest statistics for April were just released and they continue to paint a sad, even alarming picture. Total enrollment of kids in Medicaid and CHIP is down again, by 4,128 children. That’s more than an entire high school of kids who won’t be able to see a doctor for a broken bone, a pair of glasses or an immunization. Remember when we had a bipartisan consensus to cover all kids? What happened? So far no explanation.

Remember when the goal of welfare was to move people to work and self-sufficiency? The latest DPW data shows that the Administration is doing a very poor job of training people and helping them find work. Only 5.3% of TANF families have any earnings from work, down from 7.6% in the month that the Corbett Administration took office. TANF case closures based on earnings are also far below that of the previous Administration – only 1610 cases were closed last month because the family got a job that paid enough to move them off assistance. Some might say reducing the welfare to work budget by 40% might have contributed to this trend, but the Administration has turned more and more to punishing people for perceived shortcomings. Disqualification for failure to abide by the byzantine rules of the new system (a process known as sanctioning) has increased markedly – 807 families were newly sanctioned last month, bringing the total number of sanctioned families in April to 1907. Even more disturbing, 863 families, including the children, were denied all cash assistance. Not satisfied with “only” punishing 863 families, DPW is rumored to be seeking authority to cut off all the children in all families.

In short, Pennsylvania has moved away from helping families find work, to punishing entire families when parents are unable navigate the system. We changed from “welfare to work” to “welfare to nothing.”

Eliminating General Assistance is morally and economically wrong

February 7, 2012

The GA program supports the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians who have no other income.  It is truly a program of last resort.  The only people who can receive GA are:

  • Disabled or sick adults without children,
  • Domestic violence survivors, many of whom have just fled their abusers,
  • Adults caring for someone who is sick or disabled,  or for an unrelated child,
  • Adults participating in alcohol and other drug treatment programs, and
  • Children living with an unrelated adult.

The GA program provides only a subsistence benefit level.  GA pays only $205 per month in most counties (Five counties have higher amounts, 28 counties have lower amounts.)  This amount is less than 25% of the federal poverty line and has not been increased since 1990.

The GA program is not being misused.  Since the current recession started in December 2007, the Pennsylvania economy has lost over 100,000 jobs (net). Meanwhile, the number of people receiving GA has increased by only 10,352 (from 57,357 to 67,879).  Fewer than 1 in 200 Pennsylvanians receive GA, but for those that do, it is a critical safety net benefit that can be the difference between life and death.

Eliminating GA is penny wise and pound foolish.  DPW estimates that eliminating the GA program will save $150 million per year.  It also proposes an additional $159 million in cuts to state funded medical assistance to people in the former GA categories.  But these projected savings will be far exceeded by the additional public costs to support the newly homeless and destitute.  By cutting GA, more very poor individuals will turn to churches, homeless shelters, community assistance agencies, and other agencies as they struggle to survive.  These agencies are already under enormous pressure because of the recession.

The end of GA will worsen severe hardship.  Without a GA safety net, battered women will have to remain with abusive partners.  Disabled adults will lose their housing.  And already struggling Pennsylvanians will become even more desperate.

For many people, GA is simply a loan program.  Many people receive GA while they wait for the Social Security Administration to consider their disability claim. When they are approved for disability, the Department of Public Welfare is reimbursed for their GA from their disability payments.

GA is already temporary–by law–for many individuals.  Women receiving domestic violence services, and individuals in alcohol and other drug treatment programs that preclude work, are only eligible for nine months in a lifetime.  Others only receive GA while they await a favorable decision on their application for disability benefits from the Social Security administration.

For more information, please contact Michael Froehlich ( / 215-981-3707) or Louise Hayes ( / 215-227-4734).  Rev. 2-13-12

Congress Must Not Cut SSI

December 19, 2011

In a recent Opinion column in Politico, Tim Shriver writes that Supplemental Security Income serves as a critical lifeline for children with severe disabilities, and must be preserved.

CLS advocates have been at the forefront of national advocacy to defend SSI from significant proposed cuts, as a co-founder of the SSI Coalition for Children and Families, which includes over 80 supporting organizations from around the country.

Read the rest of this entry »

Please support CLS with a Gift of Justice

December 7, 2011

Marijuana’s impact on parental status more about class, race than parenting

November 18, 2011

The Family Advocacy Unit at Community Legal Services represents hundreds of parents in the child welfare system every year. Many of the parents we represent become involved with the child welfare system for reasons stemming from their poverty and lack of adequate  support . While a number of the parents we represent struggle with serious drug addiction, all too often we see parents who are capable and loving parents labeled unfit to care for their children due to their sporadic marijuana use. As this article describes in detail, while marijuana use doesn’t usually form the basis to bring a family into the child welfare system, it can form the basis to keep a family in the child welfare system and to keep a child in foster care:

City Paper article

Staffing cuts paralyze welfare offices

October 17, 2011

This op-ed by Michael Froehlich and Julie Zaebst was originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on October 3, 2011.

Last month, Hurricane Irene roared through Philadelphia, flooding basements and knocking out power to thousands of local residents. A week later, Tropical Storm Lee caused more damage. And last week, the aftermath of the storms brought attention to a different kind of disaster – a man-made one blowing out of Harrisburg.

Low-income Pennsylvania families are eligible for a small amount of food stamps (now called Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits) to replace food lost because of a storm. Families have a limited number of days to claim these food stamps. But when families applied for those benefits at local welfare offices, they faced chaos and waits of more than three hours. Worse, they were given little information on eligibility and requirements.

In a lengthening recession, the state Department of Public Welfare is being called on to provide critical basic services to more Pennsylvanians with less staff. Since 2002, the number of workers at the department has dropped by 13 percent. At the same time, caseloads have nearly doubled, with each worker now handling an average of 472 food stamp and Medicaid cases.

Hardworking county welfare staffs can’t keep up with the growing workload. This year’s state budget included another $56 million in cuts to welfare department operations and welfare-to-work services.

Meanwhile, waits of more than two or three hours have become common at welfare offices. Phone lines are jammed, and messages often go unreturned. Several years ago, the Philadelphia office set up a customer service center to handle inquiries from clients. Today, fewer than one in five calls to the center is picked up.

In addition, the welfare office now rejects more than a third of applications for food stamps. Nearly half of the rejections are because the welfare office believes an applicant has failed to provide documentation or make an appointment. In our experience assisting welfare recipients, however, these rejections can often be attributed to documents misplaced by overwhelmed skeleton crews or to ineffectual “phone tag” between officials and applicants with busy work, child-care, and school schedules.

The system is collapsing under the weight of an increasing workload, with fewer workers to handle it and a state government oblivious to the impact.

When low-income families must spend entire days at a welfare office waiting to see a caseworker or return several times to turn in the same piece of paper, it’s time they’re not spending at work, looking for work, going to school, or tending to their children.

Continuous cuts to the Department of Public Welfare have undone essential government functions. Welfare caseworkers are doing the best they can, but, as we saw last week, they are completely overwhelmed. The greatest consequences are to those who can least afford them.

Michael Froehlich is an attorney with Community Legal Services. Julie Zaebst is policy center manager at the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.

CLS provides written testimony on proposed bills that affect immigrant clients

September 23, 2011

CLS attorneys recently submitted written testimony to the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee regarding a package of bills that would adversely affect many of our immigrant–and, in some cases, citizen–clients.

To read our testimony regarding bills that would affect public benefits and employment programs, click here.

To read our testimony regarding bills that prohibit agencies from offering translation or interpretation services, click here.

Congress has a role in preventing hunger

September 22, 2011

The following op-ed appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on September 21, 2011, by Kathy Fisher, Carey Morgan, and CLS Attorney Jonathan Stein

A recent report by the Food Research and Action Center found that more than one in five Pennsylvania families with children struggle to put food on the table. Members of Congress expressed shock and indignation at the findings. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.), who represents a district where nearly half the families are at risk of hunger, said the report shone a “glaring spotlight” on the hardship American children are experiencing.

As bleak as the figures were, though, the report shouldn’t have been news to anyone who’s picked up a newspaper since the start of the recession – let alone anyone representing Pennsylvania in Congress. The study merely confirmed what lawmakers should know full well: that tens of thousands of families in their districts can’t afford the food they need.

The real outrage here is that even though members of Congress pay lip service to protecting American children, they have been chipping away at the nutritional programs that keep millions of kids from going hungry every day.

The House recently voted to slash $127 billion from the nation’s most important antihunger program, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), which according to one study helps feed one in two Americans at some point during their childhood. The House also voted to slice $733 million from the Women, Infants, and Children program, which helps more than a quarter-million Pennsylvania mothers and children afford milk, cereal, and fresh produce. These cuts would come on top of another $1 trillion in discretionary spending cuts under the recent debt-ceiling deal, which will limit the reach of other nutritional programs well into the future.

What happens if Congress fails to protect SNAP, WIC, and other nutritional programs? All Americans, hungry or not, will pay the price in the years to come. Growing up without enough food can devastate children physically and psychologically. Hunger threatens their health and development and robs them of the ability to reach their full potential.

Over the next few months, partisan rhetoric will no doubt continue to consume Congress as an appointed “super-committee” devises a plan to further trim the budget deficit. As a member of the committee, Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) is in a unique position to represent all Pennsylvania families and confirm the nation’s long-term commitment to its children. As a businessman and strong supporter of economic growth, he must also understand that the country will not thrive if we don’t invest in our children. Cutting federal nutrition programs will make hunger and malnutrition more common and more deeply rooted in our communities, draining our economy, stunting child development, and increasing suffering.

No matter how divisive the debate becomes, we must hold our elected officials accountable for keeping the interests of our children at the center of their decisions. If we don’t, America will soon find that a generation of undernourished kids is struggling as adults.

Kathy Fisher is family and economic security associate for Public Citizens for Children and Youth. Carey Morgan is executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. Jonathan Stein is general counsel for Community Legal Services.