Commownealth Foundation says Pennsylvania’s Public Welfare Spending is Unsustainable

A new report from the Commonwealth Foundation calls Pennsylvania’s welfare system unsustainable and says it’s hurting those in need.     Elizabeth Stelle, policy analyst for the Foundation,   says spending is growing faster than the economy and exceeding education appropriations.

Stelle says the report is not about attacking the poor; it’s about preserving benefits for the truly needy.   She says the system is very ineffective and largely unaccountable.  She says the system is failing the poor.  She says they’re not getting out of poverty, the poverty rates are increasing.  She says taxpayers really can’t afford the spending trajectory that we’re on.

The report calls for changes to the system to address fraud and waste, eliminate programs that don’t work and expand those that do, and to seek flexibility from the federal government in dealing with program mandates.

Stelle says recent fraud reports, including a fraud ring in Mercer County that claimed more than 750 thousand dollars in benefits, may be the tip of the iceberg.   

But Sharon Ward, President of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, says the Commonwealth Foundation is misinterpreting Department of Public Welfare data.

Ward says the report is seeing something that isn’t there, adding the recession has impacted enrollment in programs like food stamps, unemployment and medical assistance. She says Pennsylvania’s aging population has also pushed medical assistance numbers higher, due to the cost of nursing home care. But Ward says the health care premiums in the state’s public system have grown at a lower rate than private health insurance costs.     

Ward adds once the recession is over and people get their jobs back, they expect to see enrollment for food stamps, welfare and medical assistance decline significantly.