ACT UP disrupts Corbett's speech on MLK Day

Activists call on Corbett to restore General Assistance benefits and expand Medicaid eligibility

Photos for media use below

PHILADELPHIA- Governor Tom Corbett received an unexpected earful during a bell-tapping ceremony at the Liberty Bell on Monday. A group of protesters from ACT UP Philadelphia—a local AIDS activist group that is commemorating its 25th anniversary this year—held signs highlighting the difference between King’s advocacy for economic rights and the Governor’s policies that directly undermine those rights. The group demanded that Governor Corbett reinstate the General Assistance benefits his administration eliminated for 70,000 people statewide in August 2012. ACT UP also demanded Corbett allow the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to 600,000 low-income Pennsylvanians as planned in the Affordable Care Act signed into law in 2010.

“Corbett’s presence at this event, in a crass attempt to tack his name onto the powerful history of Dr. King, is the epitome of hypocrisy. When Governor Corbett cuts General Assistance and denies health insurance to the poor, he works directly against King’s vision,” said Jose de Marco of ACT UP Philadelphia. The group members include people living with HIV who lost GA benefits last year, who explain that they now struggle to pay rent; one is now facing eviction from his apartment as a direct result of Corbett’s GA cuts.

The General Assistance (GA) program was a meager, often temporary program of last-resort ($205/month in most counties) for Pennsylvanians without children who were sick or disabled, domestic violence survivors fleeing abuse, and individuals in alcohol and drug treatment programs. Often GA served as a loan program for individuals waiting for the Social Security Administration to consider disability claims; the state was reimbursed when these applications were approved. During these depths of winter, ACT UP members say the end of GA can be expected to exacerbate homelessness among the chronically ill and disabled. Even more people will turned away from homeless shelters already filled to capacity. And without GA as a safety net, battered women may feel compelled to remain with abusive partners.

Also among the group were medical students who said that the Governor’s unwillingness to commit to Medicaid eligibility expansion to poor Pennsylvanians was placing their patients in peril. As other states, including four with Republican governors, have agreed to expand eligibility as laid out in the Act, Governor Corbett continues his threats to block the expansion of Medicaid eligibility.

The expansion, funded almost entirely by the federal government, would expand Medicaid eligibility thresholds from $5,138/year to $14,404/year for single adults in Pennsylvania. Refusing to accept federal Medicaid dollars could effectively lock poor patients out of healthcare because the Affordable Care Act shifts funds previously used to compensate hospitals for care of the uninsured into Medicaid. If Governor Corbett does not accept federal dollars for Medicaid expansion, hospitals across the state would receive no compensation for the care of many uninsured patients. In the last month, Governor Corbett has stated that he doubts the state treasury has the funds to go along with Medicaid expansion, though independent groups estimate that the expansion would require only a 2% increase in state spending on Medicaid over the next 10 years.

During the year prior to his assassination in 1968, Dr. King devoted almost all of his efforts to the Poor People’s Campaign, a nationwide organizing effort in support of an economic bill of rights including the right to and “a meaningful job at a living wage” and “a secure and adequate income” for those who could not work. He also declared, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is most shocking and inhumane.”


Photos can be used by any media. Credit should be given to Kaytee Riek, ACT UP Philadelphia.

Contact: Luke Messac                                                                                                                                   
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