Welfare Reform Efforts Gain Traction

Tax hikes or spending reforms? That's the question before lawmakers as the annual scramble to the June 30th budget deadline proceeds. So it's no surprise lawmakers are turning their attention to the largest budget driver, human services.

Human Services spending is about $12.6 billion or 40 percent of the General Fund. Importantly, that chunk of change is growing at an unhealthy 6.7 percent annually while our economy slogs along at 2 percent. That means fewer and fewer dollars for other Harrisburg items like education, transportation or even public safety.

Today, the House Republican Policy Committee heard testimony on welfare fraud from Inspector General Bruce Beemer. Last week the Senate took up a bill that begins to chip away at the problem by ensuring resources are focused on the truly needy. Senator Regan's Public Assistance Integrity Act or SB 6 limits welfare benefits for drug felons and non-compliant sex offenders. It also counts large lottery winnings as income and increases the penalties for welfare fraud.

With a lengthy waiting list for disabled Pennsylvanians and still-rising health care costs, it's imperative to ensure we are not wasting precious resources.

The House of Representatives is also moving welfare solutions. the GOP policy committee, led by Rep. Benninghoff, has held multiple hearings, and Rep. Kaufer is working on a wide ranging plan to improve our failing welfare system. 

Last week, Rep. Warner introduced HB 1577 to better monitor and protect Electronic Benefit Transfer cards (used for food stamps and cash assistance) from abuse.

Monday, Rep. Seth Grove's HB 1354 to create an independent Medicaid Director passed committee. Separating Medicaid from the larger DHS would create more financial transparency and accountability to improve health outcomes.

On the federal level, Obamacare replacement proposals would streamline the Medicaid waiver process. In the past, waivers have allowed states to create a better pathway out of Medicaid by establishing sliding scale premiums, providing choice counseling, and encouraging work.

Reducing waste and fast-tracking patient-friendly Medicaid reforms are a promising start to fundamentally redesigning a welfare system that's failed to reduce poverty and driven yearly budget shortfalls. The next step is restoring the dignity of work across all programs, especially Medicaid and food stamps through meaningful work requirements for able-bodied adults.

Pennsylvanians deserve better than today's confusing and incredibly expensive welfare system.