State legislators are taking their first cracks at the Department of Public Welfare's proposed budget that eliminates cash benefits and makes cuts to mental health assistance. Governor Corbett wants to eliminate a $319 million General Assistance program that provides cash assistance benefits to about 60,000 Pennsylvanians.
Democratic Senator John Blake of Luzerne County says that oft-stated mission could be obscuring cuts that cannot rightly be called savings.
"I think if we're not careful about that rhetoric we miss the fact that there are many people, and users, consumers, who are not involved in waste, fraud, and abuse, but are in dire need of the services that your agency provides and that we provide across the state," said Blake. "And these so-called savings cannot be traced back to waste, fraud and abuse."
Blake points to proposed so-called savings in the DPW budget that involve cuts to certain programs like mental health services.
Department Secretary Gary Alexander defends the spending plan and says the expected budget deficit and rising costs have put the state's programs on a "collision course."
"We have to put parameters around some of these programs before they grow entirely out of control. We have a safety net in place. If we don't start to control costs, that safety net will end up shredding," Alexander said.
Alexander says the line item had to be cut in order to preserve Medical Assistance benefits.
Some lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee said they're still concerned with other less recent proposals to change eligibility requirements in DPW programs, like the asset test that will be re-instated for food stamps recipients.