(KCPW News) Five hundred poor and disabled Utahns will be dropped from a state program on Saturday that gives them $261 per month while they wait to be accepted for federal disability benefits. The small income from the general assistance program is often the only thing keeping them from living on the streets, says Linda Hilton with the Coalition of Religious Communities.
“It’s not easy to camp. It’s not easy to stay in the shelter. It’s not easy to live on the street when you’re, you know, when you’re fully healthy. But when you’re disabled, that’s going to be a big problem,” Hilton says. “And we’re afraid we may see people die this winter, and that’s a big concern.”
The general assistance budget was reduced by $3 million during this past legislative session. And advocates for the poor and disabled in Utah are now concerned it will eventually be phased out.
Department of Workforce Services spokesman Curt Stewart says he can’t say whether general assistance will be phased out, because it’s up to the legislature to decide. However, he adds that Utah is one of only a handful of states that still offer general assistance. He says the agency is doing what it can with a significantly smaller budget.
“We’ve worked with just about all of our community partners on trying to find the best way to serve folks who are going to lose these benefits,” Stewart says. “It is very concerning to us. We have employment counselors who are in tears over not being able to help them. And our hands our tied just because of funding, like many other agencies across the country.”
A group of advocates for the poor and disabled delivered a letter to the governor’s office last week. They’ve tried contacting the governor and lieutenant governor to ask for emergency funding for the program, but say there’s been no response so far.