Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
A measure to change the name of the state Department of Public Welfare has passed a state House committee amid concerns of the potential costs of a switch.
Supporters of the legislation, who have seen such proposals introduced and re-introduced for the past few years, said scrubbing the word ‘welfare’ from DPW’s name would be a move of compassion – a way to get rid of a stigmatized word.
But Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford) said he thinks a name change could be confusing without removing any negative connotation.
“I think people would still call it welfare anyways,” said Roae before casting his committee vote. “I mean, how many years ago did they change ‘food stamps’ to SNAP? It was several years ago. There’s no such thing as food stamps anymore. But any grocery store you go into, there’s a sign: ‘We accept food stamps.’”
Complicating a debate that has been about public perception and semantics is a new focus on cost.
On Tuesday, DPW’s Acting Secretary Bev Mackereth told the Associated Press the estimated cost of a name change is $8 million, most of which would go into changing computer programs.
“How does it cost seven or eight million dollars to change a website?” said Rep. Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery), sponsor of the proposal to change DPW’s name. “That is outrageous. I reject that, because we have thought this through.” He said a fiscal analysis done three years ago on a similar measure put the estimated costs of a name change at $500,000.
But DPW spokeswoman Carey Miller said Wednesday that with nearly 16,000 employees and seven program offices, DPW is “one of the largest state agencies in the country,” and remaking its moniker would be quite an undertaking.
“Now we just don’t feel is the right time to be doing a name change,” said Miller.
Murt pointed to language in his bill that would require the agency not to replace signs, stationary, and computer programs with the old name until the next scheduled routine upgrade or until old resources are depleted.
Some lawmakers said such requirements would only lead to more confusion among DPW’s clients. Others voting against the proposal voiced concerns that any agency funds would go into a name change instead of services.
“I do believe the compassionate thing and position is that we make sure every dollar gets into services that we can, so that’s where my concern is,” said Rep. Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery).
The measure easily cleared a vote in the House Human Services Committee. Murt said he won’t push the name change if Mackereth’s cost estimate proves to be closer to the truth than the fiscal analysis done a few years ago.
“If it comes up that it’s several million dollars to move this on, I’ll withdraw the bill,” said Murt. “But I think we need to move this on.”
Published in State House Sound Bites
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