Thursday, January 25, 2018

PA 2018 Welfare Reform Legislation Means Cuts

A January 2018 analysis by Community Legal Services of state Senate bills recently  introduced as "Welfare Reform" package.  The bills would harm Pennsylvanians struggling to get by, and cost the state millions in federal dollars, with no state savings.

The proposals announced by a number of legislators on January 2, 2018 as part of a “welfare reform” package would not save the state any funds, but would rather add to state bureaucracy.  Most of the bills would target SNAP (food stamp) benefits, which are funded 100% by the federal government. Cutting off tens of thousands of unemployed Pennsylvanians from SNAP who cannot find jobs would not only make those individuals’ lives harder but would prevent federal SNAP dollars from coming into communities statewide.

Often the term “welfare reform” is used to disguise plans for cuts to programs that help people living on the brink to get by.  Most people receiving benefits who can work do work, or are already trying their hardest to get another job.  Cutting off Pennsylvanians' basic living standards by taking away their nutrition or cash assistance only makes it harder for them get back on their feet. Rather than punishing people who are already facing economic hardship, Pennsylvania should focus on policies that help create jobs and boost wages, and address barriers like transportation and child care.

In particular:

  • HB 1659 would impose a three-month time limit on receipt of SNAP by unemployed Pennsylvanians without minor children, even if there are not enough jobs where they live.  The bill would prevent the Governor from seeking waivers of the time limit in areas of high unemployment.  It would also require new state bureaucracy by requiring parents to participate in work activities and prove that they are doing so.  While SNAP benefits are 100% federally funded, the bureaucracy to monitor participation in work activities must be funded 50% by the state government.

  • HB 1788 would limit Pennsylvanians to 48 months on TANF cash assistance (unlike the current 60 months with extensions available for hardship reasons).  TANF benefits are federally-funded.  The number of poor children and parents on TANF has fallen from 487,000 in 1996 to under 136,000 today, and dropped 20% in the last two years alone.  It now only serves 29 of every 100 Pennsylvania families in poverty.  The TANF program should be strengthened, not cut further.

  • HB 1559 would interfere in families’ intimate decision-making by requiring mothers to pursue child support against their children’s fathers as a condition of receiving SNAP.   Many families have informal child support arrangements, whereby fathers supply diapers or other necessities and are involved in their children’s lives.  Mothers know best whether those informal arrangements are best for their children, and whether suing the father for support would make things worse and undermine family relationships.  The state should not be interfering with families’ decisions, especially by overcrowding its court systems with unwilling families.  The cost of additional court cases would be borne by Pennsylvania taxpayers.

  • HB 1988 would create a pilot program in Luzerne County, whereby TANF moms would work 40 hours a week for an employer but only be paid for 20 hours a week (but get to keep their TANF benefits).  Unless the pay provided is substantially more than the minimum wage, or the only people referred to this employer have 5 or more kids, this would violate the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that workers get paid the minimum wage.  ($7.25 an hour times 20 hours times 4.3 weeks a year = $623.50 a month, which is more than the TANF grant for a family of 5.)  The better approach to reward and incentive work among TANF moms is to increase the earned income disregard from 50% to 75%, via Sen. Schwank’s bill,

  • SB 6 would make it harder for families struggling to make ends meet by charging high fees to replace lost or stolen Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards ($5 the first time and $100 the second or subsequent times).  Families struggling to pay rent, buy clothes and put food on the table cannot possibly afford these high fees.  SB6 would also create needless and duplicative red tape, creating more bureaucracy to address issues already covered by federal and state law.  SB 6 would make it harder for individuals to find work after they have received a conviction for welfare fraud, making it harder for them to be productive.  It would also harm pregnant women and mothers who are survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault or human trafficking who have self-medicated the pain of abuse, and have a drug conviction as a result, and who need our help to rebuild their lives and care for their families .  It re-imposes a 10 year ban on benefits that had previously been lifted by the General Assembly because it was counter-productive.