HARRISBURG - First the Department of Public Welfare jumped the gun on the budget process Monday by notifying 70,000 recipients of general cash assistance that the program would be eliminated Sunday. Only the budget had not passed the legislature yet.

Then a top agency official on Thursday threatened caseworkers, fielding calls from distraught clients, with disciplinary action if they suggested the clients call their state lawmakers to voice their concerns.

"Effective immediately, all CAO staff should be instructed NOT to direct the clients to their Legislator or Representative. Such direction is contrary to the Department's position on the matter," according to an e-mail from Rich Wallace, DPW's acting director of bureau operations, obtained by The Inquirer.

"Failure to follow this directive will subject you to disciplinary action," the e-mail continued, and it instructed the caseworkers to tell their clients "the program is under consideration for elimination."

The $150 million program was slated for elimination under the budget that received final legislative approval Friday and awaits Gov. Corbett's signature.

A state employee union leader assailed the e-mail for placing additional stress on county assistance workers already under duress by the widespread social service cuts affecting the low-income and disabled.

"The threat is outrageous and unnecessary," said Bill Bacon, legislative director for SEIU Local 668, which represents between 7,500 and 8,000 caseworkers statewide. "The fact of the matter is, if clients are asking for information, the caseworker should give them as much information as they can."

Reached late Friday, a DPW spokeswoman said she would have no comment on the matter.

The Corbett administration on Friday agreed to a one-month extension of the general assistance program, which since the Depression has provided temporary grants (today totaling $205 a month) for the disabled. It will be eliminated Aug. 1.

Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.