Safety Net Should be Reformed, not Renamed

Good news: Pennsylvania will no longer spend 40 percent of the general fund budget on public welfare.

Instead, we’ll spend it on “human services.”

Yesterday, the general assembly approved HB 993 to rename the Department of Public Welfare the Department of Human Services.

The stigma associated with the department has nothing to do with branding but everything to do with its failure to lift people out of poverty—despite ever-growing budgets. New census numbers reveal the poverty rate in Pennsylvania is 13.7 percent, which is a 30 percent increase since 2003.

Meanwhile, welfare spending continues to grow faster than taxpayers’ ability to pay, consuming 40 cents of every dollar spent by state government.

Lawmakers should be concerned with reforming the safety netnot renaming it. 

Their first priority should be to address the welfare cliff, in which families are punished for earning higher wages. Because safety net benefits decline more quickly than earned income increases, the system encourages families to settle for less. That’s wrong. Fixing the cliff should be the primary focus for advocates of low-income Pennsylvanians.