Pennsylvania Senate President Targets Welfare Fraud

01.13.14 | Bob Price

The state Senate president plans to introduce legislation aimed at what he says is an outcry over welfare abuse. Among the proposals: increased penalties for fraud such as making the receipt of fraudulent benefits worth more than $1,000 a third-degree felony, imposing higher fees for lost food stamp cards, making Lottery jackpot winners promptly report their winnings and tightening the state's existing asset test to make it more restrictive in terms of what vehicles an aid recipient can have, according to a legislative memo seeking co-sponsors. "I just think that I hear -- and I see myself on many occasions -- instances where I know people are on some of these benefits. And I see their lifestyle and I question their ability to be on that," said Sen. Joe Scarnati, a Republican from rural Jefferson County. "And I think working Pennsylvanians question that and the system." Jefferson County has a poverty rate of 14.5 percent, compared with a statewide rate of 13.7 percent, according to 2011 statistics. Several benefit experts and advocacy groups for the poor said they fear the proposals would be harmful, adding additional red tape to an already paperwork-intensive process at an understaffed agency.