Flaws in Pennsylvania's Welfare System, Ways to Increase Welfare-to-Work Rates Discussed at House Republican Policy Committee Hearing
5/17/2007
Welfare experts Mark Hoover and Grant Collins met with the House Republican Policy Committee today to discuss problems with Pennsylvania’s welfare system and ways that these problems can be fixed legislatively. 
 
The hearing, chaired by Rep. Gordon Denlinger (R-Lancaster), was held at the Farm and Home Center. Denlinger is a member of the Welfare Task Force, an arm of the Policy Committee. 
 
“The only way for residents to get themselves out of the vicious welfare cycle is to obtain a family-sustaining job,” said Denlinger. “With unemployment at an all-time low, there are plenty of jobs available for those who want to work. We must reform the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to make sure that it is a priority for able-bodied welfare recipients to seek and find work.” 
 
Reps. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, Craig Dally (R-Northampton), Scott Boyd (R-Lancaster), Brian Cutler (R-Lancaster), Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango/Butler), Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) and Tom Creighton (R-Lancaster), were also in attendance.
 
“Welfare has become the state’s single largest expenditure,” said Turzai. “We need to make sure that we have policies in place that promote welfare-to-work participation and that whittle out welfare fraud activities. We need to make sure that while the truly neediest are served, we are also making the best use out of our taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars and that we are spending money that actually help people improve their lives without people becoming dependent on government.”
 
Hoover played a critical role in reforming the welfare systems in Wisconsin and New York City. He also aided Israel and Denmark in reforming their respective welfare systems. During his testimony, he compared Pennsylvania’s welfare caseload rates to states similar in size. Pennsylvania ranks last, behind even Puerto Rico, in meeting the federal welfare-to-work requirements. 
 
In September 2006 the federal government said Pennsylvania needed to increase its work participation rates by 220 percent to meet federal guidelines.
 
Collins, a former special assistant and senior policy advisor for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also commented on Pennsylvania’s failure to meet the federal work requirements. 
 
Both testifiers agreed that Pennsylvania’s welfare system was in desperate need of reform.
 
“Pennsylvania’s ranking last fall in meeting the federal welfare-to-work guidelines is a serious problem,” said Collins. “A majority of the states had little to no adjustments to make in order to meet the federal standards. Obviously, Pennsylvania’s welfare system has many flaws if they needed a 220 percent increase in its welfare-to work guidelines when similarly-sized states needed no improvement.” 
 
Hoover made the following recommendations to the committee: 
  • Align the state program with the federal regulations.
  • Don’t set up separate state programs – all cases to be subject to TANF participation.
  • Align core work activities with federal core work activities.
  • Eliminate non-federal exemptions.
  • Consider new policies that have worked in other states.
  • Adopt a “work-first” approach and remove policies inconsistent with work-first. 
“Pennsylvania’s TANF regulations are strikingly different than those of the federal government,” said Hoover.  “A critical first step would be to align the Commonwealth’s guidelines of those enforced by the federal government. This alignment would help Pennsylvania avoid a significant penalty if they do not comply with the federal requirements.”
 
During his testimony, Collins gave a brief historical overview of the federal government’s welfare system. He described changes that have occurred to the welfare system since its creation in 1935 up until 1996.
 
The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 changed the system from a federally run program to state run. The legislation created temporary aid to needy families (TANF), ended cash assistance and required reciprocal responsibility from program participants. It also established work participation targets and time limited assistance in exchange for block grants given to the states. 
 
As a result of this legislation, welfare caseload declined by 60 percent, there was a 26 percent work increase among single mothers and there were 1.6 million fewer children living in poverty, according to Collins.
 
“It is time that we explore some of these reduction strategies within Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare,” said Creighton. “Our needy families depend on state assistance that is currently being spent on able-bodied residents who are abusing the system.”
 
Collins suggested that welfare programs require substantial engagement in work activities, identify all those who are employed on the caseload and those leaving with jobs, creating a performance management program that informs staff, managers and constituents in progress and that sanctions and exemption policies must promote full participation.
 
“While all other similarly-sized states have been seeing a decrease in the TANF caseloads, Pennsylvania’s caseloads have risen significantly with more than 360,000 new residents being added over the four years since the Rendell administration has taken office,” said Cutler.
 
The Welfare Task Force, under the leadership of Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), is in the process of drafting legislation, “The Working Family Independence Act,” aimed at reforming Pennsylvania’s welfare system.
 
Welfare reform has been the subject of an ongoing series of hearings held by the House Republican Policy Committee. 
 
Rep. Gordon Denlinger
99th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

(717) 733-4002
(717) 787-3531
Contact: Sean Yeakle
(717) 787-3406
Member Site: RepDenlinger.com
Caucus Site: PAHouseGOP.com