Turzai Introduces Legislation to Reform DPW's Special Allowance Program
11/10/2009
Says legislation will decrease fraud and save taxpayers’ money
 
Legislation to fix multiple systemic flaws that allow for blatant fraud under the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s (DPW) special allowance program was introduced today by House Republican Whip Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny). The special allowance program is designed to assist welfare recipients in work training and was recently the subject of an audit by Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner’s office.
 
“The lack of proper oversight of the special allowance program by DPW has led to the waste of millions of tax dollars,” Turzai said. “Pennsylvania’s current welfare system cannot continue to operate the way it has under this administration. In order to ensure that state funds are going to those who truly need assistance, the department needs to enact systematic changes to its special allowance program. My legislation takes several key steps in helping to prevent the misuse of funds and provide for better monitoring and oversight of the special allowance program.”
 
When an individual applies for assistance at a County Assistance Office (CAO), he or she must fill out a form indicating for which benefits he or she is applying. On that form, the recipient may check a box indicating a wish to receive additional benefits through special allowances. The CAO may approve special allowances for recipients if DPW establishes there is a need associated with meeting either education or work requirements. Special allowances may be used for a variety of expenses, including: transportation, automobile purchase or repair, textbooks and supplies, clothing, tools or equipment, union dues or professional fees, child care, lodging or food.
 
Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner released a report in August citing the potential for fraud in 45 percent of the special allowance cases examined. The audit found that DPW disperses more than $200 million in special allowances per year. Among the problems with the program cited in the report are: lax oversight and lack of proper management of the program, lack of accountability for payments, duplicate payments made for the same services, recurring payments that were made without review and were often paid beyond the point of eligibility or need, and refusal by DPW to cooperate with the audit.
 
Within in the audit, several specific examples of suspected fraud and abuse under the special allowance program were given: 
  • An invoice for tools from a beauty school in Delaware County was altered by changing the amount from $321 to $821. While the payment was made directly to the beauty school, the school credited the excess to the student’s account balance and the balance was paid out to the student.
  • A recipient in Philadelphia was receiving special allowance payments for child care for 10 children. One of the “providers” that was being paid to watch her children turned out to be the father of five of those children. He changed his last name and Social Security number on the child care forms, improperly collecting at least $7,367.
  • Two recipients in York received special allowances for supplies at a beauty school based on a handwritten list of supplies, totaling $637 each. The caseworker verified that the recipients were taking a nail course, but never checked to see if the lists were authorized by the school. It was later discovered that the school had no record that these supplies were purchased by the recipients.
  • One recipient received $782 over three semesters for books, all based on handwritten lists. The recipient received $108 for the same books twice for the same class she was retaking. From July 2006 to March 2009, she received $6,848 for books and supplies all put on her EBT card. 
The legislation, House Bill 2080, sponsored by Turzai would fix several of these loopholes and provide for greater accountability of the special allowances program.
 
Turzai’s legislation would make the following changes to the Public Welfare Code: 
  • Require a specific line item in the state budget for the special allowance program, enabling greater accountability to the dollars spent in the program.
  • Require payments be made directly to the final payee or provider of service, not to the recipient. These payments would be made upon the receipt of an invoice and with pre-approval from DPW.
  • Require that special allowance payments be made only by DPW, not outside contractors.
  • Require CAOs to retain documentation of payments made under the special allowance program.
  • Combine child care special allowances with DPW’s Child Care Works program, thereby eliminating duplicative programs within the department.
  • Limit the types of assistance permitted under the special allowances program to payments for clothing, testing fees, union dues, professional fees and transportation assistance.
  • Prohibit DPW from paying for the same item more than once in the same year for clothing, testing fees, union dues or professional fees.
  • Limit special allowance payments to public transportation or transportation provided through ride sharing or car pools, eliminates money for automobile purchases or repair, and limits transportation expenses to no more than $250 per year. 
“By enacting these reforms, we can reduce budget expenditures and could potentially save the taxpayers up to $100 million. Our goal is to be fiscal stewards of taxpayer dollars, while at the same time helping people in need,” Turzai added.
 
Rep. Mike Turzai
28th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

(412) 369-2230
Contact: Tricia Graham
(717) 260-6296