Testimony of Pat Albright, Every Mother is a Working Mother Network and Global Women’s Strike/Philadelphia
Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival Demand Delivery in Harrisburg, March 19, 2019
We are here today to demand that General Assistance or GA not be cut or eliminated as proposed by Republicans, nor the funding diverted to affordable housing as proposed by Democratic Governor Wolf. In fact, we are demanding that it be increased. While very little, it is still a lifeline for some who are ineligible for other forms of cash assistance including through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF. I know from personal experience, as a woman with a disability and who at the time had no children, that GA was vital to my survival after being laid off from my job in a disco light factory, until disability benefits came through.
Who would be impacted if GA were cut or the funds diverted? Some of those impacted, would include:
- women and others leaving domestic violence situations;
- young people trying to survive besides a life on the streets;
- caregivers for an unrelated child;
- people in drug or alcohol recovery programs;
And people waiting, sometimes for years, for disability benefits, including:
- people getting out of prison;
- mothers who lost TANF when their children were put in foster care, often because of poverty;
People of color would be disproportionately impacted.
This is not the first time we have had to defend General Assistance. In the early 1980’s I joined a takeover of the Capitol to defend General Assistance which was under attack, taking over the Rotunda for days, sleeping overnight, hanging out laundry. It was led by Roxanne Jones (later State Senator), Louise Hanible and Nancy Carroll, among others, with the support of State Representative David P. Richardson, who fought for General Assistance, TANF and all welfare benefits as an entitlement, a right, for the work of survival and caregiving, and so that no mother or child or anyone would be poor. We were inspired by the work of the late welfare rights leaders Beulah Sanders and Johnnie Tillmon, both of whom were in the forefront with Dr. Martin Luther King of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. They along with Black Women for Wages for Housework got passage of a resolution at the first and only Congressionally mandated conference on women held in 1977 that said women receiving welfare should be “afforded the dignity of having that payment called a wage, not welfare”. Several of those of us carrying on that legacy are involved in the Poor People’s Campaign today.
Tragically, GA was eliminated in 2012. But ultimately these grassroots efforts inspired a legal case brought before the PA Supreme Court that succeeded in reinstating GA in 2018, only to be under threat again today.
We are here to change the narrative on General Assistance as well as TANF and other welfare benefits often treated as charities for those unable or unwilling to work – while ignoring the reality that the poorer we are the harder we are forced to work.
We demand what rightfully we should have as human beings with the right to dignity and value for our contributions to society — General Assistance as well as TANF and other welfare benefits — and an end to time limits, work requirements and other punitive measures. We refuse to be divided into “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. We are part of the Poor People’s Campaign because we are part of the new and unsettling force shifting the narrative away from devaluing the lives of some of us. We are all workers who are deserving and who all make a contribution to society.