A panel of Commonwealth Court judges in Pittsburgh heard opening arguments Wednesday from attorneys challenging the way Act 80, a law that affected various human service programs statewide, was enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly last year.
The lawsuit Billie Washington vs. The Department of Public Welfare was filed last fall. Washington is a Philadelphia woman and one of more than 60,000 Pennsylvanians whose $200-a-month general cash assistance was eliminated as part of Act 80.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed Act 80 into law last June. It cut out the cash grants, extended a tax on nursing homes, changed the welfare to work requirements and created the block grant program.
Several law firms filed suit against the Department of Public Welfare, saying the way Act 80 was enacted by the General Assembly last year is unconstitutional.
Arguments the law is unconstitutional have included that:
- It made huge changes to seven different programs in one bill that had no connection to the bill’s original language.
- The bill wasn’t heard on three separate days as required by law.
- It gives the Department of Public Welfare and individual counties unlawful authority to spend money on things other than what is allotted for through the block grant program.
- There was not sufficient legislative guidance for the counties to implement Act 80.
Jason Manne, chief attorney for the Department of Public Welfare, defended Act 80 and said, “You cannot legislate human services one at time – you have to address them all at once.”
Michael Froehlich, a staff attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, said the block grant program changed the way human services programs were funded, which has adversely affected mental health and intellectual disability services.
“Historically, individual appropriations were made to each human services agency," he said. "This combined them all together and gave counties discretion as to who to fund less and who to fund more."