Government & Politics
9:27 pm
Wed March 6, 2013

PA Senators Heap Praise on New DPW Chief

A state Senate hearing offered lawmakers a chance to heap anticipatory praise on the state Department of Public Welfare's brand-new chief.

The chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee had to ask the audience to refrain from applause - not a common request during budget hearings.

Nevertheless, lawmakers on the panel found other ways to gush. One called acting secretary Bev Mackereth tremendous. Another said she's a breath of fresh air.

Not Democratic state Senator Larry Farnese of Philadelphia.

"This breath of fresh air that folks are talking about - I don't know yet," said Farnese. "We'll see a year from now."

DPW's former secretary Gary Alexander, who resigned last month, oversaw controversial moves like implementing a means-test for food stamp recipients and dropping nearly 90,000 children from the state's Medicaid rolls when the state meant to check the eligibility of enrollees. Alexander was also in charge when the Corbett administration eliminated the state-subsidized adult health insurance program, which a state judge has just deemed illegal.

But one lawmaker stood up for the former secretary. Appropriations Chairman Sen. Jake Cormen (R-Centre) noted that Alexander came into office with a mandate and a mantra - to eliminate "waste, fraud, and abuse." Alexander's marching orders were to tighten up the rules for benefits that, in past years, haven't always been restricted to those eligible for them.

"His mission was to keep it to the letter of the law, what, who was eligible, and make sure those people, at least first get their benefits," said Corman. "And I'd be just curious to see if there was an uptick in complaints that they went too far and that the people who were eligible [for benefits] weren't getting them."

Acting Secretary Mackereth said she'd get back to the senator about any increase in complaints.