A ‘pretty smart tactic’ by GOP puts Wolf in tough position for General Assistance fight


Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during an statewide radio show at the WITF Public Media Center on June 20, 2019. (Joanne Cassaro/WITF)

Pennsylvania Republicans are trying to get rid of a program that offers small amounts of cash to certain poor people.

Democratic Governor Tom Wolf wants to keep the program, known as General Assistance, but he says the latest move by Republicans puts him in a tough position.

In a nearly-party line vote Wednesday, the GOP-controlled House passed a bill that would eliminate the program.

But the same bill includes something Wolf wants: Money for Philadelphia hospitals, among other things.

Republicans believe Wolf will either sign the bill, or let it become law, because he won’t want to kill the medical money.

“They are pursuing a pretty smart tactic,” Wolf said during a statewide radio show hosted by Keystone Crossroads. “…It’s a Hobson’s choice.”

Wolf says people who benefit from cash assistance also benefit from the tens of millions of dollars that would go to hospitals. He says he’s not sure how he’ll respond.

“I’m not just saying this to put you off. We’re literally still talking about what our options are, because … we are between a rock and a hard place here,” Wolf said.

A fiscal note attached to the bill estimated that eliminating the program will save $53.5 million next fiscal year. But the Wolf administration had a lower estimate for what it costs to maintain the program next year: $24.5 million.

The cash assistance program was eliminated in 2012, but restored in 2018 after a Supreme Court decision. That decision was based on procedural problems with how the legislation passed.

Under the program, eligible people in most counties can receive up to $205 a month, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

A spokesman for the House GOP Caucus, Mike Straub, said eliminating General Assistance will allow lawmakers to “put more money into programs that are proven to help people in need,” WITF Capitol Bureau Chief Katie Meyer reported earlier this week.

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