Last week we celebrated passage of a transformative welfare reform bill, which Governor Wolf vetoed late Friday afternoon. But it wasn't the only good policy that cleared both chambers of the legislature in their final days of session. Here are three bills awaiting the Governor's signature that can improve our welfare and corrections systems.
1. HB 163: Improving Work Opportunities for Ex-Offenders. This bill ends the suspension of a driver's license for people convicted of many non-violent, non-driving offenses. Without a valid driver's license and a criminal record, ex-offenders face immense obstacles to steady employment.
2. SB 1127: Increased Penalties for Food Stamp Trafficking. The bill increases penalties for those convicted of selling or buying food stamps for cash. The legislation also includes penalties for commercially licensed businesses and potential disbarment from state contracts.
3. SB 6: Reducing Welfare Fraud and Abuse. The Public Assistance Integrity Act increases welfare fraud penalties. The bill protects programs for the truly needy by revising how vehicles and lottery winnings are treated, and restricts benefits for non-compliant sex offenders and drug traffickers.
One bill that didn't make the cut, HB 285, is worthy of an honorable mention. The legislation, which died in the House after Senate amendments, contained corrections reforms recommended by the Justice Reinforcement Initiative. The legislation could have further reduced the state prison population by 696 and averted $48.26 million in spending by 2023.
Poverty and crime are closely linked. Increasing the penalties for welfare fraud and reducing the obstacles to employment after prison ensures both systems promote opportunity and reward hard work.
With decades-low unemployment and hundreds of thousands of job openings and training opportunities, now is the time to focus on those too often left-behind. Pennsylvania's future success depends on our ability to attract those on the sidelines to family-sustaining, meaningful work.