A number of public assistance programs are available to help struggling individuals and families endure difficult financial circumstances. One challenge that lawmakers face is ensuring these programs help people who are truly in need, and making sure these programs are not abused.
In the final days of the 2017-18 Legislative Session, the General Assembly approved a number of bills aimed at protecting the integrity of Pennsylvania’s welfare programs. Although some of these potential changes fell victim to Governor Wolf’s veto pen – including commonsense work requirements for able-bodied Medical Assistance beneficiaries – other reforms were approved with bipartisan support and signed into law to help prevent public assistance dollars from being lost to illicit activities.
One of the areas of emphasis in our welfare reform efforts is guaranteeing that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are not misused for illegal purposes. Legislation that earned overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers of the General Assembly will create tougher penalties against individuals and organizations that unlawfully trade goods or services in exchange for SNAP benefits.
One recent case in Harrisburg involved a business trading drugs for SNAP benefits, and then using the proceeds of these crimes to buy supplies from a food wholesaler to be re-sold for profit. The scheme involved the benefits of nearly 60 recipients.
The new law creates tougher punishments against SNAP trafficking, including felony offenses for fraud in excess of $1,000. Violators will also face payment of restitution of up to three times the total fraud committed.
Another bill that was approved by the General Assembly would target welfare abuses by high-level felony drug dealers and non-compliant sex offenders. That legislation also places tighter restrictions on how Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards are used, including preventing the use of EBT cards at casinos and adult entertainment venues. Additional controls are also included to help the Department of Human Services and the Office of Inspector General identify and eliminate benefit fraud.
Every dollar that taxpayers send to Harrisburg must be used wisely. These and other reforms will help ensure the money dedicated to public assistance will be used only to help Pennsylvanians in need – not lost to fraud, waste and abuse.
Senator Alloway represents the 33rd District in the Pennsylvania Senate. The district includes Adams County, and parts of Franklin, Cumberland and York counties.
CONTACT: Scot Pitzer (717) 787-4651 firstname.lastname@example.org.