Welfare Reform is On the Cusp

Major welfare reform is nearing the governor’s desk. Three bills, two in the Senate and one in House, contain significant improvements to our human service programs.

SB 6 protects recipients of food stamps and TANF. Sponsored by Sen. Mike Regan, the bill, also known as the Public Assistance Integrity Act, limits welfare benefits for drug felons and non-compliant sex offenders. It also counts large lottery winnings as income and increases the penalties for those who commit welfare fraud.

With a lengthy waiting list for home and community-based services, lawmakers should take this opportunity to protect our limited resources for eligible recipients.

In the Senate, lawmakers are close to passing HB 1659 and HB 2138 to enact or strengthen work requirements for healthy adults.

The first bill prohibits the Department of Human Services (DHS) from requesting food stamp work requirement waivers without approval of the General Assembly. Despite a statewide unemployment rate of 4.1 percent—the lowest in nearly 50 years—59 counties in Pennsylvania are exempt from work requirements due to “high unemployment” thanks to creative math from DHS.

HB 2138 instructs Pennsylvania to request permission from the federal government to create a part-time work requirement for healthy adults without young children on Medicaid. More than 10 states are pursuing a work-first approach for healthy adults using Medicaid.

We know the greatest anti-poverty measure isn't an expanded Medicaid program or broader food stamp eligibility—it's a job. Together, these bills will encourage thousands of healthy Pennsylvanians to focus on work and raise their incomes, and ultimately, their quality of life.

Regardless of what the governor decides, the clamor for welfare reform is loud and sweeping. With two-thirds of Pennsylvanians supporting policies like Medicaid work requirements, it's only a matter of time before these policies become a reality.