Sen. Martin Introduces Bill to Protect Safety Net

Steve Blazer of Surge Staffing is taking an unusual approach to filling hundreds of open warehouse positions: attending job fairs at state prisons. Steve’s struggle to find workers is common across the commonwealth as we enjoy record-low unemployment rates. Yet in Pennsylvania, individuals who could be filing these open positions are instead on Medicaid.

The state Medicaid program serves thousands of healthy adults without small children who report no income. At the same time, the PA Waiting List Campaign reports 5,331 individuals with intellectual disabilities are in immediate need of human services.

New legislation proposed by Sen. Scott Martin, Senate Bill 847, would prioritize Medicaid funds (which account for 21% of the entire Pa. General Fund budget) for those who need it most.

The bill instructs the governor to design a Medicaid waiver that would request federal permission to include a community engagement expectation for anyone receiving Medicaid who is not disabled, elderly, receiving substance abuse treatment, or parenting a small child. In the past 18 months, 16 states have applied for this flexibility.

These work expectations reserve resources for the truly needy and encourage those who can work to pursue employment.

It’s important to have a functional and well-funded safety net for those who need assistance, but work expectations also bring meaning and pride to individuals.

Consider Jeff Snyder. Jeff was unemployed for more than nine months. After finding out about Arkansas’ Medicaid community engagement requirements, he went to local workforce center and was immediately matched with employers. Today he earns $18 an hour and says,

Now I work with a great company—in a job that I actually would not have gotten without the help from the Department of Workforce Services. They have given me an opportunity to provide a better life for my family and I can’t and won’t be able to thank them enough.

Like House Bill 552 and previous versions of community engagement requirements, SB 847 would exempt critical groups like the disabled, those attending school, seniors, those receiving substance abuse treatment, and caregivers of young children or dependent family members.

Individuals can meet the requirements through volunteering or working or going to school. And the requirements are constructed in a way that prioritizes participation over paperwork. For example, any combination of part-time work, education, and volunteer hours will keep an individual eligible for Medicaid.

Why continue to push a policy that has been vetoed by Governor Wolf twice? It’s simply too important to give up. An expectation of work creates pathways to prosperity. That’s a stark change from the bulk of human service programs that tolerate poverty. For too long, people have been settling for too little. SB 847 is about helping people leave poverty behind.

Plus, we know this works.

  • When Tennessee ended its Medicaid expansion, most able-bodied adults went back to work and 90% gained employer-sponsored insurance. The best way to help these adults get the health care they need is to get them back to work.
  • When Arkansas’s community engagement waiver was in effect, more than 9,200 Medicaid recipients found employment in Arkansas. At the same time, more than 14,000 people left Medicaid due to increased incomes.
  • In January 2019, when the 18,164 Arkansans who didn’t meet work expectations in 2018 could rejoin Medicaid, over 89% did not re-apply.

With dozens of work training programs, volunteer opportunities, and similar expectations in programs like food stamps, why wouldn’t we pursue a policy change that we know will improve the quality of life for thousands of Pennsylvanians and help our employers fill empty jobs?

At its heart, requiring community engagement shows that we as Pennsylvanians believe everyone has skills and talents to contribute. We’re all better off when more people engage in our communities.