Questions for PA Legislators About the 2020 DHS Budget

These questions were drafted for Pennsylvania State Senate and House Appropriations Committee Budget Hearings on the 2020 Budget for the Department of Human Services

Submitted by the PA Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
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National website: www.poorpeoplescampaign.org

Media coverage:

General Assistance

While the “growing economy”, making improvements in the lives of those “most vulnerable” and increase in the Rainy Day Fund is stressed, and given that there is now over $340 million in the Rainy Day Fund, why is there is no mention of the reinstatement of the General Assistance (GA) or establishment of Emergency Relief as is being proposed in current legislation?

The elimination of GA has devastated our communities across the state:

  • While the poor of all colors are affected, people of color and the most vulnerable of us are being disproportionately impacted.
  • People with disabilities, who often have to wait years to be found eligible for disability benefits, including:
    • Veterans;
    • People getting out of prison, who are released on the streets with nothing;
    • Traumatized mothers trying to survive on zero income after removal of our children – often due to poverty – making us ineligible for TANF benefits;
    • Young people aging out of foster care, who deal with the trauma that entails;
    • Young people trying to survive besides a life on the streets;
    • As well as:
      • Women and others in need of money so they can leave domestic abuse situations;
      • Children under 18, who do not live with a relative or who are under 21 and in high school;
      • Those caring for an unrelated child under age 13 or someone ill or disabled (who will be impacted also);
      • People in drug or alcohol programs.

We are all deserving, we all make a contribution to society, we are all workers.

The PA State Department of Human Services can right this travesty and save lives by writing the Emergency Relief Program into this budget, effective immediately.

 Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)

“Family Size Allowances for a cash grant within the TANF program have remained unchanged since they were set in 1990 [under AFDC].  Because the value of the grant has eroded over time due to inflation, it no longer takes many hours worked even at minimum wage, to lose TANF eligibility.  Allowing a TANF recipient to stay on TANF longer as they earn more income makes them more likely to attain self-sufficiency.”

  • Why is there no allocation of money to increase TANF benefits, as other states have done, in addition to increasing access to childcare and other resources to help mothers seeking paid employment?
  • What about giving mothers the right to a college education again, as before the passage of welfare reform?
  • Where in this budget is the work of mothers acknowledged and supported, estimated to be worth an average of $143,000 a year (Salary.com)?  Or the work of family caregivers, estimated at $470 billion yearly in the US (AARP)?
  • What about the right and ability for mothers to nurture our children, including the choice and ability to be at home to breastfeed our babies, which can improve their health and that of future generations?

TANF grants must be immediately raised to a level a family could actually live on.  This will also help pull wage levels up in the waged workplace.

Child welfare system

We see increases in funds for support for Child Advocates/CASAs for children, training for “evidence-based and evidence informed” home visits, etc., while the root causes of so many children being removed from their homes – poverty, as well as racism, sexism and other discrimination such as against people with disabilities or those trying to get out of domestic violence situations – are not being addressed.

These funds should go instead to:

  • Families to keep them together;
  • Funding, as in New York City, for parent advocates who have themselves come up against the child welfare system;
  • Make good quality legal help available for parents whose children have been taken or are in danger of removal from their home;

With the large numbers of children who have been in foster care ending up in the criminal justice system, this can help reduce mass incarceration (and its costs).

And wouldn’t funds allocated for police and prisons be better spent to reduce the need for policing/incarceration?

Food insecurity

The Budget invests $1M in the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System which addresses food insecurity and ensures more Pennsylvanians have access to healthy meals for their families.

  • Given attacks on SNAP and the loss of General Assistance, this is not anywhere near enough to address food insecurity in Pennsylvania;
  • What is DHS doing to oppose the forthcoming SNAP cuts?
  • And, once again, money needs to be invested in increasing benefit levels and restoring General Assistance to address food insecurity;
  • We know that there are school districts across Pennsylvania which have shamed and punished students and parents who are unable to pay school lunch fares, including threatening to report parents to child protective services.
    • Where in the Budget does it guarantee that families across the state will not be subject to this outrageous harassment?
    • And where is funding being allocated for free, universal, healthy school meals, year-round, so that children will be in the best position to thrive?

Medicaid

The comprehensive adult dental benefit in Medicaid was eliminated in 2011. Currently Pennsylvanians on Medicaid cannot receive root canals and are limited to one pair of dentures for life, as just two examples of a situation that results in an inequitable standard of care for those on Medicaid.

  • This cut was made under Governor Corbett and it was made through DHS, not as an act of the legislature. Can you restore the adult dental benefit in Medicaid?

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