Wolf’s Wrongheaded Veto Threat

Governor Wolf intends to veto Pennsylvania’s welfare code (HB 59) due to a reform contained within the bill—even though the reform can reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth.

The modest reform instructs the Department of Human Services (DHS) to pursue a Medicaid wavier, consequently reinstating work and job search requirements for healthy adults without dependent children as a condition of continued benefits. This is a crucial step toward freeing more Pennsylvanians from reliance upon subpar health insurance.

Work is the only permanent pathway out of poverty.

While three states have similar waivers pending before the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement work requirements in Medicaid, the policy is already helping thousands of SNAP and TANF beneficiaries gain independence. In Kansas and Maine, strengthening work requirements in SNAP or food stamps reduced enrollment by 75 and 80 percent respectively. Plus, half of those who left the program more than doubled their income.

Right here in Pennsylvania, 30,000 people left SNAP when work requirements were re-established in select parts of the state. While the department didn’t track those individuals, experiences in other states indicate their lives likely improved.

According to DHS, about 490,000 adults would be affected by the reform in HB 59. That’s the population of Harrisburg, Lancaster, Allentown, Erie, Scranton, and Reading combined.

Helping nearly half a million Pennsylvanians increase their incomes and quality of life is the definition of meaningful reform, especially when Pennsylvania’s other welfare programs often discourage workforce participation. Forthcoming research based upon federal and state trends finds only seven percent of healthy adults on SNAP are working. Encouraging work could significantly increase incomes, and even help people afford private health insurance.

This reform can reinvent government and propel Pennsylvanians to prosperity. A focus on increasing individual incomes, not Harrisburg’s spending list, is the only way to escape the destructive cycle of budget deficits.