Class Action Lawsuit Proceeds over Benefit Cuts for 359,000 Low-Income Pennsylvanians

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In February 2010, more than 359,000 low-income Pennsylvanians unable to work because of a disability, blindness or age were dealt a blow when a modest monthly state benefit was cut.

These Pennsylvanians receive a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment of no more than $674 per month. In addition to this federal benefit, they receive a state-funded payment called the State Supplementary Payment (SSP).

In February 2010, the state benefit was cut from $27.40 per month for an individual (in most cases) to $22.10. This may not seem like a big cut, but as Michael Froehlich at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia notes:

To SSI recipients, this reduction in their income was significant.  The combined SSI and SSP monthly amounts of $696.10 for an individual now equal less than 78% of poverty.  For many SSI recipients, the reduction in SSP meant a missed meal, a medical co-pay that could not be met, or a paratransit ride that could not be taken.

In November, Community Legal Services along with the law firm Dechert LLP filed a class action lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare alleging that the Department broke the law by cutting the SSP benefit without first seeking public comment. Michael Froelich has a full update on the litigation at the Community Legal Services blog. He notes that the court recently dismissed preliminary objections filed by the Department and that the case is proceeding:

Next up, the court will decide whether the case can be heard as a class action lawsuit instead of 359,000 separate individual cases. After that – if we win – the court will finally get to decide whether or not DPW broke the law when it reduced the SSPs without allowing for public comment. We hope to have a hearing on this question before the end of the year.

If we do win, we’re asking that DPW reimburse all SSI recipients for the money that was withheld from their checks because of the reduced SSP. As of today, the reimbursement will be about $90 for each recipient.

Read Michael's full update on the litigation at the Community Legal Services blog.

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