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State benefit reduction to affect needy elderly, blind, disabled

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By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010

Starting next week, thousands of low-income elderly, blind and disabled people in the region will have a monthly benefit reduced by up to 24 percent, a legacy of last year's state budget cuts.

Human services officials and advocates for the poor and disabled say that while the cuts involved may seem small -- $5.30 a month for a single person, $10.40 for a couple and up to a $125 for a family -- they mean a lot to those on Supplemental Security Income.

"These are people who count their pennies," said Judy Barricella of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, who said the state cuts will impact some of the area's neediest and most vulnerable residents, including 6,344 Allegheny County children under 18 and 31,000 blind or disabled county residents.

"This could mean the difference between buying a bag of potatoes or filling a prescription for some of these people," she said.

The cut, which will save the state $9.4 million this year and $22.9 million next year, was made in an account that provides a state supplement to those receiving monthly federal SSI benefits. The monthly grant supplement for an individual drops from $27.40 to $22.10. For a couple it goes from $43.70 to $33.30. The maximum SSI grant for an individual is $674 a month and $1,011 for a couple.

In Allegheny County about 33,000 recipients of the SSI program will be affected. A little more than 8,000 face cuts in Westmoreland County; 4,500 in Beaver County; 3,300 in Lawrence County; 5,400 in Washington County.

Gary Tuma, a spokesman for Gov. Ed Rendell, said the cut was a result of legislative negotiations to eliminate a $3.2 billion revenue shortfall. He said the governor initially proposed a slight increase in funding for the supplement and his efforts prevented a much deeper cut.

The reduction went unnoticed until recipients began receiving letters last week from the state Department of Public Welfare. Statewide some 345,000 face cuts including 6,000 children.

Rachel Freund of Mental Health America - Allegheny County said the notices did not explain the reason for the cuts and left recipients confused and upset.

"These are people living under the poverty line and $5 a month is a big deal," Freund said.

Jesse Anderson, 55, who lives in a county group home, said she got a notice last week that her benefits were being reduced.

"I can use all the money I get," Anderson said, adding that she was concerned the cut might force her to leave the group home or prevent her from buying winter clothing.

"It's cold out there," she said.



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