In Pennsylvania, Welfare is Not a Way of Life
In July, the Obama administration announced that it would begin allowing states to opt out of federal “welfare to work” requirements. These work requirements have been in place since the historic bipartisan welfare reforms in 1996, which established the principle requiring able-bodied individuals to work in order to receive public assistance. President Barack Obama’s policy change could signal the end of the reforms former President Bill Clinton called the “end of welfare as we know it.”
Fortunately, Pennsylvania is moving in the exact opposite direction. This session, the General Assembly actually strengthened work requirements for welfare recipients. In fact, the past two years of Republican control in Harrisburg have yielded more welfare reforms than in the previous 15 years combined.
During the Rendell administration, public assistance had grown by 40 percent, eventually becoming the single largest component of the state budget. We realized something had to be done before welfare costs crowded out other important priorities.
Everyone can agree the public safety net should protect our most vulnerable citizens, like infirm individuals in long-term care facilities, senior citizens who rely on medical assistance and people who need support services for mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities. For able-bodied people, welfare was not meant to be a way of life, but a temporary relief leading to employment and self-sustainability.
To confront this problem, House Republicans developed a package of legislative reforms based on three overriding principles. Welfare reform must restore integrity to the system, increase recipients’ accountability to taxpayers and preserve the safety net for those who need it.
We now require the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) to use an electronic cross-reference system to provide a 19-point check on applicants’ eligibility to ensure only those who qualify for benefits receive them. The practice of “benefit shopping” across county lines for higher benefit levels has been prohibited. In addition, for the first time in state history, random testing is required for welfare recipients who have previous felony drug convictions. The program is designed to ensure those who are receiving benefits are working toward being able to rejoin the workforce.
House Republicans also have passed legislation to increase the criminal penalties for the theft of welfare benefits. In addition, we have worked to eliminate the Special Allowance Program by replacing it with the Job Transition Loans program, which is a loan-based program to help recipients of public assistance gain the tools necessary to re-enter the workforce.
There are many other reasons to be optimistic about the new direction of DPW. After clearing a backlog of 154,000 cases needing review, DPW determined that approximately 100,000 individuals were not eligible, even under the previous administration’s eligibility rules. DPW created the Office of Program Integrity to strengthen efforts to curb fraud, waste and abuse. In its first review of suspicious out-of-state EBT Card use, DPW generated almost $1 million in savings from identifying ineligible out-of-state residents receiving benefits.
House Republicans also will continue to push for legislation to build on our success of weeding out fraud and waste, but we need the help of Pennsylvania citizens. If you suspect someone is engaging in welfare fraud, please contact the Office of Inspector General’s Welfare Fraud Tip Line toll free at (800) 932-0582.
Together we can repair our welfare system to ensure taxpayer-funded benefits go only to the neediest individuals, and we can systematically stop the “welfare is a way of life” mentality.
More information about the House Republicans’ welfare reform efforts and my legislative priorities is available at www.RepGrove.com
State Representative Seth Grove
196th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Nicole Wamsley