House Republicans Introduce Welfare Reforms

Public Welfare is both the largest—at over $27 billion in total spending— and among the fastest growing programs in the Pennsylvania state budget.  In fact, this year, welfare surpassed education in terms of General Fund spending (state taxes), and criticism as been levied at Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget because it cuts education subsidies while increasing welfare spending. Indeed Auditor General Jack Wagner has identified rampant fraud and abuse in welfare programs that may cost taxpayers upwards of $1 billion.

House Republicans today introduced a package of welfare reform bills designed to reduce welfare spending by weeding out fraud and abuse.

The initiative, entitled WelFAIR: Fairness, Accountability, Integrity and Responsibility, includes four bills passed by the House Health Committee this week and four more bills targeted for passage this month.

Bills passed in committee:

  • HB 960; Requires use of Verification System: Implements an electronic cross-reference system within the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) to ensure only those eligible for benefits receive them.
  • HB 1254; Prohibiting Tobacco Purchase: Prohibits the purchase of tobacco or tobacco-related products with welfare-issued electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards.
  • HB 1261; Residence Verification: Ensures eligible welfare applicants are afforded assistance based on their county of permanent legal residence. Currently, applicants often apply for assistance in counties with more generous benefits even if they don’t live there.
  • HB 1251; Strengthening Fraud Penalties: Strengthens penalties on welfare fraud to bring the current Welfare Code penalties in line with existing welfare fraud penalties in the Crimes Code.

Bills still in committee:

  • Requiring Photo ID’s: Requires the use of photo identification to ensure benefits aren’t misused.
  • HB 1297; Drug Testing for Felons: Requires random drug testing for welfare recipients with previous felony drug convictions within five years of assistance. Individuals would be tested before benefits could be approved.
  • Special Allowance Reform: Transitions the special allowance program into a loan-based initiative, providing loans instead of handouts for those moving from welfare to work.
  • HB 1301; Medical Assistance Transportation Program Reform: Implements new guidelines and restrictions on the existing Medical Assistance Transportation Program to prevent abuse.

Legislators were hesitant to put a price tag on the savings, but it’s obvious that with an estimated 10 percent of Medicaid spending going to ineligible recipients, these measures could reap significant savings.

Medical Assistance already consumes 31 percent of the state’s budget and costs are set to skyrocket as Obamacare increases eligibility in 2014.

For more on how to cut welfare waste watch my testimony on welfare reform.