Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pennsylvania "WelFAIR" Legislation

Pennsylvania State CapitolThe Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted a group of bills out of committee last week that would makes changes to the existing Public Welfare Code. Collectively, the bills, known as “WelFAIR”, seek to reform areas of social service programs that Republicans have targeted as areas susceptible to abuse. However, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that despite claims that these bills would cut costs and help close the state’s budget gap, in fact these bills would have little effect on cost saving, and could result in greater strains on the system as families feel the effects of the cutbacks. Read on for a summary of the bills currently before the House.

HB960: House Bill 960 provides for a new fraud detection system and for an income eligibility verification system for public assistance. The income eligibility system, as proposed, would be a computerized system that matches the SSN of the applicant with a variety of databases, including:

• Unearned income information from the IRS
• Employer quarterly reports of income and unemployment insurance info
• Earned income and death register information from SSA
• Immigration status from Citizenship & Immigration Services
• Public housing and Section 8 information from HUD
• Beneficiary Data Exchange (Bendex) Title H database by SSA
• State/national new hire database

If a discrepancy results between the SSN and the databases, the applicant is given notice and an opportunity to explain in writing. If applicant does not respond to request, assistance is discontinued. If an applicant responds to the notice and disagrees with the findings of the match between his or her social security number and one or more databases, the department will reinvestigate the matter. If, after investigation, the department determines that there is no error in finding the discrepancies, the department shall determine the effect on the applicant's case and take appropriate action.

HB1251: House Bill 1251 makes it a crime to knowingly make a false or misleading statement or knowingly fail to disclose information regarding eligibility when applying for or using any ACCESS device (Food Stamps). The bill sets gradation of the offenses from a 3rd degree misdemeanor to a 3rd degree felony, and offenders would be required to pay restitution.

HB1254: Makes it unlawful to purchase tobacco, tobacco paraphernalia, liquor, or alcohol with an EBT card or debit card issued to convey support payment moneys.

HB1261: The department shall determine all elements of eligibility based upon the circumstances as they exist at the applicant’s place of residence prior to awarding assistance.

More information on these bills will be provided as they navigate the legislative process.

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