FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Nov. 2, 2011
HARRISBURG – The Coalition for Low Income Pennsylvanians believes Gov. Tom Corbett is perpetuating stereotyping and unfairly targeting poor people in a television commercial aimed at welfare fraud.
In a letter delivered to the governor’s office today, the coalition of faith groups, service providers, anti-poverty and anti-hunger groups and children’s advocacy and community action groups asks him to rethink his approach.
The 30-second spot features the governor urging Pennsylvanians to report suspected cases of welfare fraud to the state through a toll-free phone number.
“We are extremely concerned that the apparently singular focus on welfare fraud suggests that cheating is common among Pennsylvanians who are struggling to get by, the vast majority of whom follow every rule and navigate many requirements of public assistance programs, ” coalition co-chairs the Rev. Sandra Strauss of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches and Kathy Fisher of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, wrote.
Corbett’s commercial, “singles out the Department of Public Welfare and misses the opportunity to deliver a broad anti-fraud message… Some of the costliest fraud occurs through more elaborate systems schemes, not by individual recipients.”
CLIP is concerned that Corbett’s message adds to negative stereotypes about people who receive public assistance.
“Many members of our communities are extremely reluctant to turn to ‘welfare’ for help even in tough times despite the fact they have paid taxes and should have access to this assistance… The message you deliver exacerbates their fear of being stigmatized.”
The CLIP leaders said the organization fully supports “even-handed efforts to ensure that government dollars are used efficiently to meet the many and varied demands within the Commonwealth. If your administration is pursuing a general crackdown on fraud throughout all agencies and programs of state government, the ad should deliver a message that suspected fraud in other areas is also of concern.”
Full text of the letter
November 2, 2011
The Honorable Tom Corbett
Governor of Pennsylvania
Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Dear Governor Corbett;
We write on behalf of the Coalition for Low Income Pennsylvanians (CLIP), a group of diverse organizations from across Pennsylvania including the faith community, service providers, legal service advocates, anti-poverty and anti-hunger groups, children’s advocacy organizations and community action agencies. Many of our members from across Pennsylvania have seen your prime time TV spot highlighting welfare fraud and soliciting citizens to report those they believe are abusing the system.
CLIP members have first hand experience not only with public assistance recipients but also with caseworkers and others involved in either receiving or delivering services. Based on our broad and varied perspective, we have many concerns about the message you are sending.
- The message singles out those receiving assistance, perpetuating stereotypes and inviting an erroneous conclusion that fraud is rampant.
As this recession claims more victims who have lost jobs, have fallen into poverty for the first time in their lives, or may be attempting to re-train to compete in the difficult job market, we all need to be mindful of the hurdles and roadblocks people are facing. All Pennsylvanians should be treated with dignity and respect.
We hear constant concerns from the unemployed about people commenting about their food choices when they pay with an Access card. We hear about people who are ashamed to use their Medicaid cards at the doctor’s office or to even be seen entering a County Assistance Office despite their genuine need for help. Many members of our communities are extremely reluctant to turn to “welfare” for help even in tough times despite the fact that they have paid taxes and should have access to this assistance when their circumstances change. The message you deliver exacerbates their fear of being stigmatized.
- Casual observers do not know complex program rules and are not in a strong position to identify fraud.
With the propensity toward stereotyping that seems more common with public benefits programs than in any other form of government assistance, we caution that asking people to be on the lookout for abusers is singling out recipients when our collective experience teaches us that mistakes and abuse can occur at all levels. We can't ignore the fact that the recession has caused a tremendous increase in demand for assistance, while the number of caseworkers available to deal with new applications and process the many verification document and other changes reported by families in need has decreased significantly. It is casting a very wide net to invite Pennsylvania citizens to expose abuses in the system when they may have neither personal understanding of assistance programs nor knowledge of their many and complicated rules. Many complaints received through the advertised toll-free phone number will be baseless, yet will require staff time and effort to assess each and determine which should be investigated.
- The message singles out Department of Welfare programs and misses the opportunity to deliver a broad anti-fraud message.We fully support even-handed efforts to ensure that government dollars are used efficiently to meet the many and varied demands within the Commonwealth. If your administration is pursuing a general crackdown on fraud throughout all agencies and programs of state government, the ad should deliver a message that suspected fraud in other areas is also of concern. Some of the costliest fraud occurs through more elaborate systems schemes, not by individual recipients. Efforts to crack down on fraud should include other areas, such as provider fraud and abuse and the management of the health care, insurance, and gambling industries, as well as ensuring legally mandated tax payments are being made to the Department of Revenue.
We hope you will rethink this approach and welcome a more even-handed method of assuring citizens that their hard-earned tax dollars are being carefully monitored and spent efficiently.
Thank you for your consideration.
Rev. Sandra Strauss, Co-chair, PA Council of Churches
Kathy Fisher, Co-chair, Public Citizens for Children and Youth
Community Justice Project
Community Legal Services
Maternity Care Coalition
PA Budget and Policy Center
PA Hunger Action Center
SEIU 668 PSSU
United Methodist Advocacy in PA
Women’s Law Project