By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A group of disabled Pennsylvanians and advocacy organizations have sued the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, challenging recent cuts made to welfare and mental health service programs.
The suit challenges Act 80, a bill signed by Gov. Tom Corbett in June (see related story).
The measure eliminated the $150-million general assistance fund, which gave monthly cash grants of about $200 to more than 61,000 low-income and disabled Pennsylvanians.
The bill also created a pilot “block” program that allows 20 selected counties to shift funds from mental health and other disability services to pay for other services. There were additional changes to other welfare programs (see related story).
“The act (Act 80) includes changes to Medicaid eligibility, changes to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), the Welfare for Families eligibility, changes to the welfare-to-work program, changes to adoption subsidies, and an assessment on nursing homes,” says Michael Froelich, staff attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. “The (state) constitution specifically prohibits this type of log-rolling, where you combine several proposals into one omnibus bill.”
The suit, which was filed in Commonwealth Court on Monday, requests that the court temporarily block Act 80, which would restore the general assistance fund to the poorest of the poor in Pennsylvania.
Froelich says the legislature can then take each measure through the proper legislative channels, which includes multiple hearings that are open to the public.
“We want our legislatures to do an up-or-down vote on the merits of each piece of legislation,” he tells KYW Newsradio. “We don’t want backroom horse-trading going on.”
Department of Public Welfare spokesperson Donna Morgan says she hasn’t seen the lawsuit, but countered that Act 80 went through the legislature’s ordinary budgetary approval process.
“Forty cents of every state dollar is put toward the Department of Public Welfare budget, and we looked at that and are trying to live within that realm,” says Morgan. “We had to target state-only funded programs. And general assistance fit in that category. This is really about living within our means, trying to figure out how to support our other programs.”
Morgan says medical assistance will continue for those cut from general assistance. She says the Department of Public Welfare provides support for millions of Pennsylvanians.