House Majority Policy Committee Hearing Reveals Significant Welfare Reforms are Well Under Way
HARRISBURG – A state House Majority Policy Committee hearing centered on welfare reform and cost-control efforts revealed that more than 100,000 ineligible welfare recipients have been removed from the state’s Medical Assistance program since July. Majority Policy Committee Chairman Dave Reed (R-Indiana), who along with members of the Policy Committee was briefed on the news today by top welfare department officials, applauded the reform steps.
“For years under the Rendell Administration, taxpayers watched the state’s welfare budget increase by billions of dollars while population in programs like Medical Assistance spiked at alarming rates,” Reed said. “When we hear that in just a few short months the new leadership at the Department of Public Welfare has identified and removed more than 100,000 ineligible recipients from the rolls, we should be both pleased with the progress but concerned with the lack of oversight during the last eight years.”
The Wednesday morning hearing included key testimony from Timothy Costa, executive deputy secretary at the state Department of Public Welfare (DPW). During his comments about the 100,000-plus ineligible recipients, Costa noted the cases were closed simply by enforcing previously unenforced current rules and regulations.
“The fact that it was current regulatory authority used to shed light on these ineligible recipients is evidence that these folks clearly could have been removed before now,” said Reed. “These were not people pulled off the welfare rolls because of the new authority. These were folks who simply did not belong there in the first place.”
Of the 100,000 ineligible recipients, Costa noted they included people who moved out of state, were simply no longer eligible for benefits, or recently died.
Among the other points highlighted by Reed and Costa was an update on the state’s new welfare drug testing law. Developed as part of the Policy Committee’s WelFAIR (Fairness, Accountability, Integrity and Responsibility) initiative, the new drug testing law was approved with the state budget and included in Act 22 of 2011.
Costa noted the department is moving forward with the implementation process of the drug testing program, and he expects it to be rolled out in its first county in January. Additional county rollouts will follow.
This news comes on the heels of a recent court ruling in Florida, in which a judge recently blocked that state’s new welfare drug testing law due to constitutional issues over suspicionless search and seizure. Unlike Florida’s law, which requires testing for all welfare recipients, Pennsylvania’s drug testing law only affects those with previous felony drug convictions, which falls within constitutional parameters.
“We are pleased to see the department moving forward with the drug testing program,” Reed said. “If we have folks with previous drug records on the welfare system, we want to make sure they are doing their part to remain clean and transition from welfare to self-sufficiency.”
While the hearing covered a number of issues relative to welfare spending, cost-control efforts and reform measures, several key points were noteworthy.
Costa acknowledged the department is currently on pace to meet its budget mark for the current fiscal year, which is critical given the state’s fiscal constraints. Further, he expressed the department’s commitment to improving oversight relative to the abuse of welfare benefit cards and reducing overall waste and fraud within the system.
“Today’s hearing certainly shows we all are making progress when it comes to restoring integrity to our welfare system,” Reed said. “Our goal has always been to ensure any abuse of the system is minimized so we can be certain those folks who truly need public assistance are provided the benefits they deserve. Clearly, we are on the right track.”
State Representative Dave Reed
62nd District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Dan Massing