It's Time to Change Course on Pennsylvania's Welfare Programs
4/10/2007
By Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny)
Chairman, House Republican Policy Committee
 
As a result of Gov. Ed Rendell’s ineffective leadership with regard to Pennsylvania’s Welfare programs, Pennsylvania is now facing a financial crisis fueled by an out-of-control Department of Public Welfare. Each and every Pennsylvania taxpayer will soon be presented the bill as a result of the governor’s neglect.
 
The failure of this administration to properly oversee the state’s welfare system all but guarantees that those the system is meant to assist will, once again, find themselves caught in a pitiless cycle of welfare dependence.
 
Currently, total welfare spending is the single largest expenditure in the state budget. We presently spend more on welfare than we do on critical programs such as public education.
 
In the 2007-2008 fiscal year, Pennsylvania is projected to spend more than $23 billion in both state and federal monies for welfare. This figure is astounding. Just before Gov. Rendell took office in 2003, total state spending on welfare was $6.8 billion. Rendell’s proposed budget for 2007-08 calls for $11.5 billion in state welfare spending, an increase of 68 percent in just five years.
 
It is routinely claimed that reductions in federal spending have forced the states to shoulder even more of the welfare burden. However, federal spending on welfare in Pennsylvania has actually increased by more than a billion dollars in the last five years.
 
Pennsylvania’s total Medicaid spending in 2002-03 totaled $10.8 billion; Rendell’s proposed budget calls for $14.6 billion just five years later. Total Medicaid enrollment in that time has increased from 1.5 million to 1.9 million people. This alarming trend makes it all too clear that we will see more of this explosive growth in the years ahead unless basic steps are taken to bring spending under control.
 
This stunning increase in spending can be seen in every major area of the welfare budget. 
 
Spending on the cash assistance portion of welfare has increased by more than 80 percent in the same time, from $655 million in 2002-03 to $1.18 billion in 2007-08.
 
The number of people receiving cash assistance in Pennsylvania has increased by 13 percent from late 2002 to 2006.
 
During the same time, New York reduced its welfare rolls by 14 percent, Florida by over 17 percent, Texas by more than 50 percent, Illinois by almost 19 percent and Ohio by almost 8 percent.
 
Nationally, the number of people receiving welfare payments was cut by 14 percent at the same time Pennsylvania saw a double-digit increase. While other states have found innovative ways to control costs and break the cycle of poverty and welfare dependency, Gov. Rendell has moved Pennsylvania in the opposite direction.
 
During the TANF reauthorization last fall, Pennsylvania needed to increase its welfare-to-work participation rates by 220 percent just to meet the minimal federal work requirements. In fact, Pennsylvania received the worst rating in the nation. Similar sized states, such as Texas, Florida and Ohio, actually met the federal welfare-to-work requirements. Illinois only needed to increase work participation by 7 percent and New York by 6 percent. 
 
The current administration has so severely watered down the welfare-to-work requirements that they are almost without meaning. In fact, the Department of Public Welfare appears to have exempted a portion of those receiving cash assistance from this requirement altogether, bypassing the General Assembly and side-stepping federal welfare-to-work requirements.
 
This is a shocking breach of faith with Pennsylvania taxpayers.
 
It is also a betrayal of those who find themselves simply warehoused on the welfare rolls. To carelessly assume that today’s welfare recipients cannot be helped into meaningful employment is to condemn them to a marginal existence of government dependence.
 
Pennsylvania’s imminent welfare crisis represents a monumental failure by the Rendell administration. Pennsylvania is long overdue for a realistic approach to welfare spending that combines financial discipline with aggressive and proven welfare-to-work strategies. Twelve million Pennsylvanians deserve nothing less.
 
Rep. Mike Turzai
28th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
(412) 369-2230
www.RepTurzai.com
Contact: Tricia Graham
House Republican Public Relations
(717) 260-6296