Cash Assistance options during COVID-19

Man hand open an empty wallet via flickr Marco VerchPennsylvania has been leading the nation in unemployment claims. We’re the 4th largest state and rank 2nd for number of claims.

The huge increase in need due to the pandemic is flooding the system. We’re hearing it from a lot of people—they are out of work, they filed for unemployment, and they’ve been waiting for weeks for a PIN to file a claim.

Or they are self-employed, out of work, and have been waiting to be able to file for the expanded unemployment benefit. Or they aren’t eligible for unemployment.

What can they do? What resources are out there while they wait?

NOTE: This post was first published April 16, 2020, it was updated May 8 with info on EAP.

The Problem

First, let’s take a moment to recognize that prior to this pandemic, our state legislature was failing to help people with no source of income. Over the last 30 years in Pennsylvania, cash assistance has been torn to shreds. Fewer than one in every thousand families in poverty receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits because – get this – their income is too high, even though they are living in poverty. For the families that do qualify, TANF fails to provide adequate job training and education opportunities to help move them to self-sufficiency. Moreover, the state hasn’t changed the dollar amount families can receive since 1990. The current benefit levels still leave TANF recipients in deep, deep poverty, with incomes below 25% of the poverty line. Just Harvest continues to advocate to improve TANF.

In addition, last year, Republican state legislators hammered through legislation to once again eliminate General Assistance (they tied it to hospital funding so Gov. Wolf couldn’t veto). Thus, despite the strenuous objections of advocates (including Just Harvest and our members) and Democratic legislators, they eliminated the only cash assistance program for adults without children. They are now ignoring Democratic bills that would create an Emergency Relief Fund in its place, letting them lie stagnant in committees.

Even bipartisan legislation that would create paid family leave has been stuck in state committees since being introduced last fall. Instead, Republicans have promoted measures to preempt or block local paid sick days laws.

A Solution?

As part of the federal Family’s First Coronavirus Response Act, Congress created several types of paid assistance to help people through the economic impact of the pandemic:

A lot of folks are waiting in desperation for these benefits and payments to arrive. Others are ineligible for these programs – or can’t access them – and are falling through the cracks.

Those with dependent children have one more option: they can apply for cash assistance, officially called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

How to Apply for TANF

Typically when applying for TANF cash assistance you have to agree to participate in a work program, file for child support, and can only receive benefits for 60 months in your lifetime. There are possible exemptions from all of these requirements if you have extenuating circumstances, and DHS has somewhat relaxed work requirements during the pandemic.

But if you are just expecting a temporary loss of income, requesting TANF Diversion might be your best option. With TANF diversion you have to show a one-, two-, or three-month financial need (by demonstrating recent work history or having filed for unemployment) and expect to have income again within four months when they go back to work. You do not have to file for child support or worry about meeting work requirements, and it doesn’t count towards the 60-month lifetime limit. Diversion payments are a one-time lump sum payment equal to one, two, or three months worth of benefits.

You can only get a diversion payment once every 12 months. If your situation goes on longer than three months, you’ll have to apply for regular cash assistance.

What are the eligibility rules?

TANF Diversion Maximum Monthly Income and Grant Amount
Household Size Max Income/Grant
1 $205
2 $316
3 $403
4 $497
5 $589
6 $670
  • Your income has to be less than the monthly cash grant amount for your family size (see the chart at right). Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, SSI income, and some child support does not count, but all other income counts.
  • Your countable assets have to be less than $1,000. This includes checking, savings, cash on hand, retirement savings, and some vehicles (a car worth more than $40k, any second car, a boat). Any money you have left from your tax return – and the coming stimulus payments – are not counted as assets.
  • You have to be caring for a minor child who is related to you (your own child, niece/nephew, grandchild, cousin, etc) or be pregnant.
  • For diversion, you have to have a recent work history and expect to go back to work when the crisis is over.

How to apply:

  • Apply for cash assistance online at
  • Write in the comments section that you recently lost your job because of the coronavirus crisis and you want a diversion payment.
  • Send proof of the expenses you’ll cover, such as utility bills, lease copy, car note, etc and confirmation that you have applied for unemployment. Including those could save time.
    • Please note: the diversion amount has to actually be able to cover the expenses you submit. If it doesn’t, you’ll need show proof that you applied for other benefits or grants that would cover the balance. TANF Diversion is intended to help solve your financial problems, not just delay them.
  • Be prepared to explain your situation during a phone interview.
  • You will be asked to provide proof of your assets and maybe proof of your former job. If you cannot get these, explain why during the interview and ask for help.
  • Just Harvest can help you apply. Call us at (412) 431-8960 x602 and in your voicemail message let us know that you need help applying for cash assistance.

Other Options

In addition to contacting charitable organizations like the United Way (dial 2-1-1 or 888-856-2773), there are charitable mutual aid funds to try for help. The following info comes from Ehrrin Keenan via this Google doc, which she is updating regularly.


  • Share My Check – Donate your stimulus check to those who need it the most
  • Pittsburgh Mutual Aid @ (This spreadsheet is great!)
    • Pittsburgh Mutual Aid is a collective of organizers and individuals who are coming together to assist the community during the COVID-19 crisis through providing economic relief. This fund aims to deliver at least $5k a week to those in Pittsburgh who are in need because they have lost income due to the COVID-19 crisis. For now, we hope to give amounts that are $250 or less.
    • Please donate and share our campaign so we can once again prove that Pittsburgh is a city of bridges which we cross to help and support each other.
    • We are doing our absolute best to prioritize people who may be more vulnerable than ever during this crisis, and people in communities who systematically have less access to social capital, family wealth, new job opportunities and other forms of support. This includes (but is not limited to) people over the age of 60, immunocompromised people, disabled people, BIPOC, and any people who are at risk of becoming unhoused or food insecure due to COVID-19.
    • We want to help as many people as possible and will be distributing funds based on the emergency nature of the request. If we don’t have cash funds available for your request, we will contact you and do our best to connect you with resources and services that can help.
    • To apply for emergency aid, please fill out the form.
    • Please note that funds will not be shared until raised
  • Mt. Lebanon & Dormont Neighborhood Aid
  • Lawrenceville “Buddy System” sign up
  • Sharpsburg – Resident Needs Assessment Form
  • COVID Mutual Aid for Friendship/Bloomfield
  • Aspinwall Community Needs Survey
  • Free meals for restaurant industry workers
  • 42nd District – Rep. Miller Resource List
  • Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation – buddy program, food/supply delivery, emergency fund, etc.
    • Garfield NEIGHBORS IN NEED FUND– A fund to help individuals & families facing a hardship. Typical grants average $0-$500. Bloomfield Garfield Corporation: (412) 426-5329 or email Garfield Neighbors in Need Crisis Fund Online Application:
      • Care Packages Delivered: A volunteer service delivering packaged meals to those in need in Garfield. Garfield Jubilee: (412) 849-6689
      • Receive ‘Grab n Go’ Meal Bags on your doorstep: Mon/Fri between 2:30-4:00 Local non-profit located on the corner of Friendship Ave. and S. Pacific Ave delivering daily lunches door to door. Must contact to fill out distribution form EVO FOOD DELIVERY Waiver. Marilyn Chaney at Earthen Vessels Outreach call: (412) 214-0862 or email:


Grants & Funds

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