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Public Statements

Issue Position: Welfare

Issue Position

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Welfare Cash Assistance Out of Control

The release of the Auditor General's report on Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards confirms what many of us have been saying for several months, that Pennsylvania's welfare system is out of control.

Cash assistance was created to help low-income families become independent while receiving benefits from taxpayers. Pregnant women, dependent children and their parents who live with them typically qualify for cash and other programs such as day care, Medical Assistance and SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

EBT cards seem an efficient method to distribute welfare benefits to recipients. Both food stamps and cash assistance payments are electronically loaded on the cards, thereby eliminating the need to mail checks to individual recipients, thus saving the taxpayers money. So far, no problem.

The audit detailed that, in one month alone, the cards were used in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Some $5.2 million in nearly 95,000 transactions conducted outside our state raise serious questions about the oversight pertaining to these cards. In addition, since users can access cash, they can circumvent the system and spend taxpayer dollars in casinos, bars, massage parlors or any other place they wish.

Just so the public understands the breadth of this program, with more than three-fourths of a million cardholders spending an average of $200 million a month, that adds up to a couple of billion dollars per year. In a time of tight budgets, this figure should cause us all to sit up and take notice.

To add insult to this embarrassment, the audit noted that DPW was "less than responsive" to the auditor's inquiries and seemed to dismiss the auditor's concerns of inadequate monitoring. This cannot be tolerated!

I found a similar lack of concern a few months ago when I raised the issue, brought to my attention by a citizen, that an out-of-state private company was contacting local businesses by mail encouraging them to accept electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards at their establishments, including local restaurants. The company charges a fee to facilitate transactions for the businesses.

The company enticed business owners with the notion that tax money could now be spent in their establishment generously. In fact, one paragraph informed them that businesses accepting the card "Can potentially gain more customer traffic which could result in a new source of revenue for their business."

By encouraging, and in this case promoting, recipients to use your tax dollars freely, it begs the question whether the fundamental purpose of the entire program is to supplement needy families with basic needs to help them over a temporary hard time or is it just free money from our pockets to be wasted at their whim?

This is the philosophical tipping point. A beloved president once reminded us that: "Welfare's purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence."

Of course Americans are generous people and want to help those truly in need, but taxpayers do not wish to see that money to be squandered.

If the goal of cash assistance is to use the force of law to take money from producing taxpayers and redistribute it to needy families "temporarily" to help them eventually become independent, then we need tighter controls on how much and where it can be spent.

I receive scores of reports concerning assistance abuse from constituents. While we all want to show compassion to needy families, this audit is quite disturbing to those who pay the bills to support this program.

The time is right to tighten rules on spending cash assistance. Let's return government to the legitimate purpose of preparing to free people from the need for assistance from the rest of us, rather than luring them into a state of dependency on us.


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