New Laws, New Administration Repairing Pennsylvania’s Broken Welfare System
11/2/2011
Since coming to office five years ago, I have heralded the need for serious reforms to Pennsylvania’s welfare system. As the author of legislation to improve oversight of the state’s Weatherization Assistance Program, administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), under the auspices of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), I have been on the forefront of efforts to reform government benefit programs. I also serve as the co-leader of the Welfare Policy Development Team, which has made great strides in advancing legislation to cut fraud, waste and abuse from our welfare system.

The House Majority Policy Committee last week held a hearing about the progress of welfare reform, and I am happy to report that Pennsylvania has taken steps forward in the fight to return fairness, accountability, integrity and responsibility to welfare programs.

During the hearing, DPW officials testified that more than 100,000 ineligible welfare recipients have now been removed from Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance (MA) program, simply by enforcing existing rules and regulations that were not enforced by the previous administration. Of those removed from the welfare rolls, many had moved out of state, were deceased or were ineligible for benefits. The savings from this simple “housekeeping” measure is tremendous.

Welfare programs account for more than 40 percent of our state budget, and MA is the largest program within DPW. The Commonwealth’s MA rolls have grown by nearly 12 percent every year, while Pennsylvania’s general revenue collections have increased only by 3 percent per year. This has lead to a more than 97 percent increase in the MA budget of a decade ago.

I applaud Gov. Tom Corbett and Secretary of Public Welfare Gary Alexander for their efforts to reduce welfare fraud. Clearly, this administration is taking the endeavor seriously.

I also thank Auditor General Jack Wagner for his role as a government watchdog. His audits of the LIHEAP program, the Weatherization Assistance Program and the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) Cards have contributed to bringing attention to the importance of accountability and have helped to bring about many reforms.

Wagner recently published a report critical of the oversight of the EBT card program, citing a lack of cooperation from the current and previous administration. During the policy committee hearing, Tim Costa, executive deputy secretary of DPW, disclosed that the department is fully cooperating with the auditor general to provide requested data. Costa also indicated that DPW’s Office of Income Maintenance (OIM) has developed its own internal monitoring system to identify suspicious usage patterns and out-of-state transactions.

Also discussed during the hearing was implementation of a provision signed into law in June to require random drug testing for any welfare recipient who previously had been convicted of a drug felony. This is an issue my office is often contacted regarding, as many people do not realize the requirement is now part of state law. Taxpayers want to know that their money is not being used to further an addicted person’s drug habit, and that the person is getting the professional rehabilitation help they need. We must be preparing people for re-entry into the workforce, and this proposal will give individuals the help they need, not prolong a habit.

We have come a long way in our reform efforts since January. There is still a long way to go, but I truly believe we are all rowing in the same direction when it comes to controlling welfare costs.

I am working with the administration to draft practical LIHEAP and Weatherization Assistance reform legislation, and other proposals put forth this spring to reform welfare remain a priority for this session.

Residents who have questions about welfare fraud or any state matter, may contact my office at (717) 786-4551, or electronically at www.RepCutler.com or www.Facebook.com/RepBryanCutler.

State Representative Bryan Cutler
100th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Nicole Wamsley
nwamsley@pahousegop.com
717.783.8063
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