Latest DPW figures bring bad news

June 10, 2012

The Department of Public Welfare’s latest statistics for April were just released and they continue to paint a sad, even alarming picture. Total enrollment of kids in Medicaid and CHIP is down again, by 4,128 children. That’s more than an entire high school of kids who won’t be able to see a doctor for a broken bone, a pair of glasses or an immunization. Remember when we had a bipartisan consensus to cover all kids? What happened? So far no explanation.

Remember when the goal of welfare was to move people to work and self-sufficiency? The latest DPW data shows that the Administration is doing a very poor job of training people and helping them find work. Only 5.3% of TANF families have any earnings from work, down from 7.6% in the month that the Corbett Administration took office. TANF case closures based on earnings are also far below that of the previous Administration – only 1610 cases were closed last month because the family got a job that paid enough to move them off assistance. Some might say reducing the welfare to work budget by 40% might have contributed to this trend, but the Administration has turned more and more to punishing people for perceived shortcomings. Disqualification for failure to abide by the byzantine rules of the new system (a process known as sanctioning) has increased markedly – 807 families were newly sanctioned last month, bringing the total number of sanctioned families in April to 1907. Even more disturbing, 863 families, including the children, were denied all cash assistance. Not satisfied with “only” punishing 863 families, DPW is rumored to be seeking authority to cut off all the children in all families.

In short, Pennsylvania has moved away from helping families find work, to punishing entire families when parents are unable navigate the system. We changed from “welfare to work” to “welfare to nothing.”


Many Philadelphians may lose their TANF and Medical Assistance this Summer

July 15, 2011

Errors by overwhelmed workers anticipated during Logjam July

Philadelphiawelfare offices will have a lot of extra work to do this summer in addition to their other work.  They are being instructed to hold extra interviews for up to 9,300 TANF recipients and review around 16,000 Medical Assistance cases – all by August 12.  We are worried that many families will lose their benefits as welfare workers are overwhelmed by this unwieldy and hasty review process.

For a printable flier on what to expect this summer–including a preview of the notice thousands of families will be receiving–click here.

Who is at risk of losing their benefits?

There are three groups of people who may be at risk:

  1. Adults who have received TANF for more than 60 months in their lifetime since 1997;
  2. Adults who currently have a Good Cause reason not to participate in TANF welfare-to-work requirements; and
  3. Families with pending Medical Assistance renewals. Read the rest of this entry »

Dept of Public Welfare seeks to reduce supportive services that help families move from welfare to work

May 28, 2010

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare recently proposed regulations that would cut supportive services payments to families moving from welfare to work.  These payments, called special allowances, allow families receiving TANF or SNAP (food stamp) benefits to obtain employment, education, or training.   DPW’s proposed regulations are worrisome.  In its quest to save $6 million per year, DPW will make it much more difficult for families to obtain the education and training they need to permanently move out of poverty.

Community Legal Services submitted detailed objections [pdf] urging DPW to withdraw these proposed regulations.

Current TANF grants pay less than one-third of the poverty line.  A family of three, for example, receives only $403 per month in most Pennsylvania counties.  This is simply not enough to pay the costs of transportation, books, school supplies and other work supports that families face when trying to better themselves and move off of welfare.

Among other things, DPW’s proposed regulations would impose low and arbitrary limits on the special allowances that a family might receive.  For example, an individual would only be able to receive $2,000 in her lifetime to spend on books and school supplies, and $1,500 per year on transportation     If a parent reaches the maximum payment for transportation or books and supplies, she may be forced to abandon her education or training, quit a job, or stop looking for work.  These arbitrary limits will prevent many people from making enough money to leave welfare behind.

It appears that DPW’s main goal is to save money at the expense of the poorest Pennsylvanians – even at the risk of preventing those families from gaining education or jobs enabling them to escape poverty. Read the rest of this entry »


In sour economy, TANF cash assistance provides little help for Pennsylvania families

April 21, 2010

Earlier this week, a candidate for state-wide office complained to the (Pottsville, PA) Republican-Herald that “our welfare rolls have ballooned and ballooned.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is a common misconception that more and more people are receiving TANF cash assistance these days.  But the truth is far different.

In reality, fewer families are receiving TANF cash assistance in Pennsylvania than ever before.  And as the economy has soured and long-term unemployment has increased, the cash assistance rolls have only barely inched up.  (More people are, however, receiving food stamps or Medicaid.)

As the table below shows, the number of families receiving TANF cash assistance has dropped 16.5% statewide and 15.2% in Philadelphia over the past five years.  (Raw data available here.)

Pennsylvania

Philadelphia

March 2010

83,705

36,311

March 2005

100,259

42,812

Why is this?

As the Department of Public Welfare increasingly emphasized welfare-to-work placements, many families were able to obtain employment.  However, CLS believes that many families that are eligible for TANF  are thwarted by the burdensome application process or burned out by the one-size-fits-all work-first policies that discourage recipients from seeking education and training to improve their employability.  Add to this that the TANF assistance grant has not been increased in over 20 years so a family of three, for example, can still receive only $403 per month in most counties.

A recent New York Times article examining the failure of TANF rolls to increase substantially in this economy cited a Congressional report finding “no clear association between the change in the number of families receiving cash assistance in a state and its unemployment rate.”

And that, CLS believes, is one of the most troubling aspects of TANF cash assistance.  A program that should serve as a safety-net program of last resort is failing its biggest test since welfare reform was enacted in 1996.


DPW issues policies to help domestic violence survivors

April 19, 2010

For years, advocates from Community Legal Services, Community Justice Project, Women’s Law Project, and others have worked with the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) to ensure that survivors of domestic violence who turn to TANF and GA cash assistance in a time of need receive support and protection.

In March, DPW published final regulations that reflect the recognition that cash assistance can play a vital role for individuals and families as a means to escape domestic violence, address safety issues, and become financially independent of abusive partners.  These regulations implement the federal Family Violence Option (FVO) that was part of the 1996 welfare reform law (also known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.)

Specifically, the regulations will:

  • Help to identify victims of domestic violence who may be in need of help;
  • Provide for referral of victims to counseling, shelter, or other appropriate services; and
  • Provide for waiver of certain TANF or GA program requirements when compliance with a requirement would place a victim at greater risk of domestic violence; make it more difficult for a victim to escape an abusive situation; or unfairly penalize a victim of domestic violence.

For more information on these final regulations, see the website of the Independent Regulatory Review Commission here.


Program to help low-income families attend community college gets results

January 29, 2010

Several years ago, the Department of Public Welfare teamed up with Pennsylvania’s community colleges to create a program called KEYS.  Through KEYS, families receiving TANF cash assistance and food stamps can attend community college.  Getting a degree helps families get better jobs to sustain their families.  See below for a great video on the KEYS program featuring many families throughout Pennsylvania that have benefited from the program.

Community Legal Services is a strong supporter of KEYS and advocates for expanded employment and training programs for low-income Philadelphians.  For more information on KEYS at Community College of Philadelphia, click here.


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