Morning Must Reads: The End Is Nigh for General Assistance

As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes this morning, Pennsylvania's General Assistance program ends today. 

With Gerald Ragin's state cash assistance set to end today, the 46-year-old McKeesport resident will be spending the day with a caseworker, filling out an application for federal disability benefits.

Welfare advocates say that he may be waiting a long time for help, because his main option for replacing his monthly state General Assistance checks could take at least a year to enroll.

In the meantime, he and 61,000 other Pennsylvanians will no longer receive approximately $200 in monthly benefits due to state budget cuts.

Those who qualified for aid through the General Assistance program included disabled or sick unemployed adults without dependent children, domestic violence survivors and adults participating in drug and alcohol treatment programs.

The City of Scranton is considering a commuter tax as part of its recovery plan. A commuter tax is a reasonable step towards restoring fairness in the tax code and part of a balanced approach to resolving the fiscal crisis that many cities across Pennsylvania face. 

While the tax will be decided through the courts, support for the levy seems strong among city residents, who pay for police and fire protection and infrastructure. Support drops off at the city limits.

"I live here, and I stuck with the city," said Cindy Dermont, a Scranton resident and downtown office worker. "So I've been paying the city's property tax and income tax all along. Having commuters pay toward the city sounds good to me."

Michael Pagano, Ph.D., dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, would say that Ms. Dermont has a right to want a commuter tax. Those who work in Scranton benefit from the services of the city 
 roads, infrastructure, common areas, sidewalks, police and fire  without paying for them. A commuter tax, he said, is a way to get the people who use services to support them rather than having city taxpayers subsidize the costs of commuters having jobs.

"The people who moved to the suburbs for lower taxes don't take into consideration that they are still using city services 
 because someone else has covered the cost of their having a job," he said. "Unless that changes, people will continue to make rational decisions that screw the city where they work and leave remaining city taxpayers with a growing burden."

A provision in the Affordable Care Act begins this week that lowers the co-pays and deductibles for women's preventive care. 

Health advocates are calling attention to portions of the federal health care law overhaul that begin this week and affect women’s health.

Women who renew their health plans on or after August first will receive services like counseling for sexually transmitted diseases and screening and counseling for domestic violence victims without added costs. But because the change only applies to new or renewed plans, it will take a couple of years for all women to see the change.

“Insurance companies will have to begin covering women’s preventative health services without extra charges like copays and deductibles,” said Rebecca Foley, Public Policy Director of Women's Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania. “As new plan years begin, more and more women will gain access to this affordable, preventative health care provision.”

Cheaper services will also include screenings of pregnant women for gestational diabetes and federally approved birth contraception.

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