Advocates for recipients of the funds, also known as general assistance (GA), say the cuts will cost more than they save as people turn to homeless shelters or commit crimes for cash and end up in prison.
The Corbett administration may eliminate the money as soon as Sunday, leaving those who get it with little time to adjust.
"We're preparing for the worst," said Michael Froehlich, a staff lawyer for Community Legal Services. "Those of us who work with people who receive general assistance are pretty heartbroken on behalf of our clients because their very difficult lives are going to be made very much harder."
People in four categories can get general assistance: Disabled people who receive it until they complete the process of qualifying for Social Security disability; children who otherwise would be in foster care; domestic-violence victims; and recovering addicts.
The federal government reimburses Pennsylvania for what it spends when disabled people qualify for Social Security, reducing the state's general assistance costs to $126 million.
While she gets therapy, Ortega lives at Philadelphia's Interim House, where Kathy Wellbank is the program director.
"All the women here have been victims of some kind of sexual or physical abuse as children, and they are trying to heal," Wellbank said.
Ortega was one of those victims. "I was molested," she says simply. "I couldn't manage my feelings, so I covered them up with drugs."
Her cash assistance has helped her pay court costs from her arrests. She also buys personal items, such as shampoo. But when she leaves Interim House, she will transfer to transitional housing for recovering addicts and will need the money to pay rent.
If general assistance disappears, she does not know how she will pay for that. Eventually, she hopes to get a job, but for now, therapy and recovery take up most of her time.
Cynthia Brown, also a client at Interim, says she needs the general assistance funds to pay taxes on her house while she works on recovery. She wants to get sober to be reunited with her daughter, who is 2 and in foster care.
Addicts cannot get general assistance unless they are enrolled in a treatment program and are limited to nine months of payments over their lifetimes.
"This is really a really a bridge to self-sufficiency and it's being decimated," Wellbank said. "When I told them yesterday, it felt like I was giving them a death sentence."
All of the women at Interim, she added, would agree to do community service or other work to repay the temporary assistance.
Advocates are planning a protest outside Republican State Sen. Dominic Pileggi's Chester office Wednesday.
Corbett's budget maintains medical care for those who qualify for general assistance, but advocates for the poor are concerned that tightening eligibility requirements to save an estimated $169 million yearly will leave some without health care.
Anne Bale, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Public Welfare, said the department had not made any final decisions about when changes to GA would occur because the budget is not final.
Kelli Roberts, a spokeswoman for Corbett, said the changes were necessary because federal mandates are increasing costs for Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare.
"It's been a tough budget season," she said.
Sharon Ward, executive director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, said state officials could find the money, especially because revenues have exceeded expectations.
She and others believe that getting rid of general assistance will only drive up what state and local governments spend on social services. It costs about $1,000 a month to house someone in a city homeless shelter, about five times the cost of general assistance, for example.
With many city shelters already at capacity, it's not even clear that there would be room.
"We can barely maintain what we've got as a safety net," said Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter's press secretary.
Contact Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520, firstname.lastname@example.org or @miriamhill on Twitter.
Inquirer staff writer Angela Couloumbis contributed to this article, which also contains information from the Associated Press.