OPED: Regan thanks supporters of welfare reform bill
We have all seen the headlines of welfare fraud and abuse. For several years, members of the Legislature have been working to address the issue within our public assistance programs. Now legislation I sponsored, Senate Bill 6 — the Public Assistance Integrity Act, has been signed into law by the governor as Act 125 of 2018 to implement reforms so many have been calling for.
Central components of the bill that address the eligibility of high-level felony drug dealers and non-compliant sex offenders were contained in bills that passed the House last session with overwhelming bipartisan support.
In a time when we are seeing neighbors and family members consumed by addiction, we should not be allowing drug dealers to be benefitting from taxpayer-funded assistance. We are talking about those convicted of having more than 50 pounds of marijuana or more than 100 grams of Schedule I or Schedule II narcotics, cocaine, methamphetamines or heroin. Senate Bill 6 did not establish these levels — they are the highest levels of drug trafficking convictions outlined in Title 18, Pennsylvania’s Crimes Code.
Additionally, my legislation implements a measure to ensure convicted sex offenders comply with registration requirements. Plain and simple — if they fail to comply, they are ineligible for welfare benefits. Once they are in compliance, they will again be eligible. Statistics tell us that those in compliance are less likely to reoffend.
Act 125 also places reasonable controls on how and where access cards, also known as EBT cards, can be used. No matter where you are from, I hope as a matter of statewide public policy, we can agree that taxpayer-funded benefits should be spent in grocery stores, not in strip clubs or casinos — nor should an individual be allowed to withdraw money from their benefits card at these facilities.
Senate Bill 6 addresses available resources requiring lottery winnings of $600 or more to be considered when determining eligibility. Further, the legislation requires the Department of Human Services (DHS) to cross-reference the Social Security number of recipients with the Pennsylvania Lottery’s database of winners.
Despite the many exemptions outlined in federal law, my legislation attempts to address a long-standing concern – welfare recipients driving expensive luxury vehicles. This is not an effort to stereotype. What it is, is a recognition that public assistance is intended for those in need financially. Part of our work to reform welfare in the state of Pennsylvania is to promote and encourage individuals to gain — or regain — financial independence, not continuously rely on the system.
To that end, my legislation proposed that a vehicle with a fair market value of $40,000 or more would be considered an available resource. In working with the governor’s policy office we agreed to amend the language to state that a vehicle would be counted as a resource if the difference between the fair market value and the amount owed on the purchase price is greater than $40,000.
Finally, in conjunction with other legislation that was passed and signed into law to address trafficking of benefits cards, Act 125 imposes a fee of $100 for second and subsequent replacement cards. Trafficking of access cards occurs when retailers purchase cards from welfare recipients for much less than the
amount of money on the card and then use those cards to purchase product for their business. The recipient gets cash to spend as they wish, and the retailer is spending far less on merchandise than they would outright. This is not right, and it is not the intended purpose of our public assistance program.
Critics of my legislation claim it will hinder people from obtaining benefits or that the provisions in the bill are duplicative. My bill is fair and reasonable and is focused on the most egregious abuses of our welfare system and enhancing the law to protect the eligibility of our society’s most vulnerable and needy. There is no intention of preventing responsible, law-abiding citizens who are truly in need of assistance from getting it.
As for claims that the legislation is duplicative with respect to federal laws, critics state that the Trump Administration is currently working to implement provisions related to prohibiting lottery winners and non-compliant sex offenders from receiving assistance. Senate Bill 6, as indicated by the low bill number, was introduced early in the 2017-18 legislative session. The Senate passed the bill and sent it to the House on July 20, 2017. The fact the Federal government is working to implement measures speaks to the necessity of these changes — not that they are duplicative.
I appreciate my fellow legislators recognizing the importance of this legislation and the governor for seeing that we should not be granting public assistance to those that do not abide by our laws.
— State Sen. Mike Regan represents Pennsylvania’s 31st Senatorial District, which covers parts of Cumberland and York counties.