An Overview of Welfare Programs in PA

The following federal programs assist low-income and unemployed individuals and families.

In Pennsylvania, they are administered by the Department of Human Services (DHS – formerly the Dept. of Public Welfare) and run through the state’s County Assistance Offices (CAOs). You can apply for benefits at any CAO, but DHS will assign your case to a CAO based on where you live.

Cash Assistance

SNAP/Food Stamps

Medical Assistance


Cash Assistance

Pennsylvania has two different cash assistance programs, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and General Assistance (GA). To be eligible for cash assistance, your income must be below the cash grant size: $205 a month for a single person, $316 a month for two people, $403 a month for a family of three. Pennsylvania also has a limit on savings of $250 for an individual or $1,000 for more than one person.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides temporary financial assistance for pregnant women and families with one or more dependent children. TANF provides cash assistance to help pay for food, shelter, utilities, and expenses other than medical. TANF participants are eligible for supportive services to help you meet the work participation requirement, such as child care assistance and transportation. If your income becomes too high while you are receiving TANF, transitional benefits are available so that your SNAP, Medical Assistance, and child care subsidy remain intact.

General Assistance (GA) provides financial assistance to people if they are in one of these situations:

  • have a temporary or permanent disability;
  • are a child who is not living with a relative;
  • are caring for an unrelated child under the age of 13 or are caring for someone who is ill or disabled;
  • are victims of domestic violence (benefits limit of 9 months in a lifetime);
    OR
  • are in a drug or alcohol treatment program that prevents them from working (benefits limit of 9 months in a lifetime).

You can learn more about General Assistance through our handout or at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.

orange arrowPLEASE NOTE: Even if your income is too high to receive cash assistance, you may still get food stamps and Medical Assistance.


SNAP (Formerly “Food Stamps”)

The federal Food Stamp Program is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). DHS administers the program through assistance offices in each county (CAOs). Most low-income families are eligible for SNAP benefits, which are credits that come on an electronic (EBT) card called ACCESS. SNAP recipients can use their benefits like cash to buy food at most grocery stores.

orange arrowFor information about SNAP benefits, read more about the program or call Just Harvest at (412) 431-8960 x602. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has a SNAP Information Hotline for Pennsylvania: 1-800-692-7462.


Medical Assistance (MA)

MA, or Medicaid, is run by Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS). There are many different MA programs for people in different situations. If you do not qualify under one category, you may qualify under another. For example, you may be over the income limit for Medicaid expansion, but not for CHIP. If someone tells you that you don’t qualify under one category, be sure to ask about others.

Anyone who receives TANF, GA, or SSI generally receives full MA benefits, which pay for doctors, hospital visits, prescriptions and most other medical expenses.

Medicaid Expansion (MAGI-related Medical Assistance)

This is the form of Medicaid that became available with the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid Expansion allows for all low-income people aged 18-64 whose Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) from their tax return is below 139% of the poverty guidelines to qualify for full medical benefits regardless of their health condition. There is no savings limit for Medicaid Expansion.

The application for Medical Assistance will ask you questions about tax deductions and if you plan to file a tax return. However, you do not need to have income or file a return in order to qualify for Medicaid.

TANF and Extended Medical Coverage

All TANF recipients are enrolled in Medical Assistance. If you leave TANF because your earnings are too high, the family is usually still eligible for MA for one year under the Extended Medical Coverage (EMC) program. For the first six months, you are eligible regardless of what your income is. For the second six months, the family is eligible as long as their monthly income is below 185% of the federal poverty level.

To get Extended Medical Coverage, you must tell your caseworker that you are leaving welfare for work. Don’t just assume EMC will automatically go into effect. Double-check with your caseworker, especially if you receive a notice that your Medical Assistance is being discontinued.

Medical Assistance for Children and Pregnant Women

Medical Assistance programs for pregnant women and young children have higher income guidelines. Pregnant women and infants can receive coverage if they have an income under the limit of 215% of the federal poverty guidelines. Children under age 6 can get coverage if the family’s income is under 157% of the federal poverty guidelines. Children ages 6 through 18 get coverage if the family’s income is under 133% of the federal poverty guidelines. There are no savings limits for this program. A chart of these guidelines can be found on DHS’s website.

Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

CHIP is a health insurance program for all children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medical Assistance. Depending on the family’s income and their children’s age, CHIP coverage can be free, subsidized, or full pay. There is no income or savings limit for CHIP. If you apply for Medical Assistance for your children and your family is over the income limits, DHS will send your application to CHIP.

Medical Assistance for Older People and People with Disabilities

Healthy Horizons includes a variety of assistance programs for Pennsylvanians who are receiving Medicare, including assistance with Medicare premiums and copays. The full list, with income limits and savings limits, can be found on DHS’s website.

Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD)

This program is for people receiving SSI/SSDI or who have an impairment/condition that meets Social Security’s definition of disability. They must also be working full-time or part-time and earning compensation. There are no set number of hours a person needs to work. The income limit for this is 250% of the poverty guidelines, and the savings limit is $10,000. If you are near the income guidelines, but slightly over there are a number of deductions when calculating your income.

Home and Community Based Services

Pennsylvania has a list of services available to help people with disabilities or medical limitations receive services in their home or community. DHS has the list.

How to Apply for Medical Assistance

You can apply for MA at your local County Assistance Office or online at www.compass.state.pa.us. MA coverage will pay your medical bills going back to three calendar months before you applied.

orange arrowTo find out if you are eligible for these medical assistance programs or get help with your application, contact:
Children’s Health Insurance Program: Online or by calling 1-800-986-5437
Consumer Health Coalition: Online or by calling (412) 456-1877
Pennsylvania Health Law Project: Online or by calling 412 434-5779