Hidden Piece in PA Budget Deal Threatens Public Benefits
Courtney Demuth is a Temple University student who is interning in Project HOME’s Advocacy and Public Policy Department.
Most, if not all, Pennsylvania State residents are aware that Governor Tom Corbett Corbett approved an on-time, no-tax increase budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year (which began on July 1).
However, many Pennsylvanians have been left in the dark about the secretive House Bill 960, an amendment to the Public Welfare Code. HB 960, a final piece in the 2011-2012 budget, which was passed through a last-minute Senate measure, places the control over welfare funding in the hands of Corbett’s administration instead of the legislature. The amendment is designed to provide the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) unimpeded authority to make cuts to Medicaid, cash assistance, and welfare-to-work programs. Not only is there a plan to limit benefits, but new requirements will be made to determine who may receive these benefits.
Furthermore, and perhaps most worrisome, is that the amendment allows DPW to make drastic changes to these programs without public comment or legislative oversight. The elimination of, “waste, fraud, and abuse” in public benefits has been the justification for the overhaul. According to the Times-Tribune the amendment, “is designed to produce an estimated $400 million in savings from the state Department of Public Welfare this year.”
Corbett’s secretary of public welfare, Gary Alexander, has been provided special authority for the next year to implement regulatory changes without having to seek approval from the legislature. Alexander, who served in Rhode Island before taking his job with Corbett’s administration, will now be impacting the lives of many of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents and their families. Specifically, the amendment now gives the DPW the authority to reduce cash assistance grant amounts and make drastic changes to the Medicaid program. Changes to Medicaid include an increase in co-pays for visits to medical care providers, a reduction in covered medical services under the Medicaid program, and the possible elimination of whole categories of eligibility for Medicaid.
Furthermore, changes to welfare-to-work programs would eliminate many of the supportive services that aid low-income families to move from welfare to work. Increases in co-payments in childcare subsidies are also expected, as well as new costly drug testing requirements. Cash assistance and SNAP (food stamp) recipients who have had a felony drug conviction within the past five years will be subject to the new drug testing requirements.
For more details on the changes that are underway visit the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia’s blog: http://clsphila.wordpress.com/. As the dust settles over Corbett’s enacted budget, and Alexander begins to roll out changes to existing public benefits, we will keep you informed on how these changes may impact you, your family, or someone you may know. For a full analysis of the PA budget, see http://www.pennbpc.org/analysis-PA-2011-12-budget.