State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Familiar fault lines over welfare fraud bill

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jan 13, 2014 5:07 PM
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Proposed restrictions on public welfare benefits and their recipients in the state Senate is resulting in familiar - and partisan - fault lines.

Two Senate Republicans are proposing a bill to crack down on welfare fraud, while Senate Democratic leaders dismiss the measure as being "red meat" for the GOP base during an election year.

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=S&cosponId=13876

The plan would increase penalties for welfare fraud, and hike certain fines in an attempt to stop people from profiting from their benefits. It also includes language to consider lottery winnings and expensive cars when determining a person's eligibility for benefits.

Minority Leader Jay Costa raised concerns the state would lose more money rooting out welfare fraud than is lost in the fraud itself.

"They seem to be harsh," Costa said, referring to measures he would be punitive to all benefit recipients for the sake of stopping the smaller number of people who abuse the system.

"Eh, that's always the outcry," said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), who is drafting the measure, alongside Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill). "You know, if that were the case, we would never do reforms in the Senate or the House, for when we have members abusing, whether it's per diems or abusing expenses."

Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), the ranking Democrat on the chamber's Appropriations Committee, said he finds it suspect that the issue is being raised during an election year.

"The question is, is there anything really there, or are these red herrings," he said, adding the measure may be motivated by nothing more than a desire to "go after welfare folks, go after low-income folks."

Scarnati shrugged off the criticism. Neither he nor Argall is up for reelection this fall.

"These difficult times, where we have fewer state dollars for these programs, dictate to us that we have to be better stewards of fewer dollars to make sure that the truly needy and those that truly are dependent on state and federal dollars get it," Scarnati said.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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