Sunday, September 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A Welfare Two-fer

On the same day public assistance cash grants ended for 60,000-plus needy Pennsylvanians, the state announced a fraud bust in public assistance.

A Welfare Two-fer

It was no doubt coincidence.

But on Wednesday, the same day the state ended public assistance cash grants to 61,000 needy Pennsylvanians, more than half in Philadlphia, the state announced a public assitance fraud bust.

The bust is a good thing and could help deter future fraud.

But the impact of ending general assistance remains to be seen.

The bust was announced by state Atty. Gen. Linda Kelly and involves two caseworkers who over time allegedly stole $300,000 in funds earmarked for food stamps, medical benefits and cash assistance.

One defendent, 47-year old Cynthia Lewis, of Landsdowne, is charged with setting up phony welfare accounts and using state-issued benefit cards at ATM machines to withdraw cash she then allegedly spent on cruises and at casinos.

The other defendent, 43-year old Ivan Jones, of Philly, is charged with using existing welfare cases to get additional assistance and benefit cards that he then used to draw cash from ATMs, sometimes splitting the new money with approved recipients who cooperated with him.

Both defendents worked in the Welfare Department's Delaware County office in Darby.

The arrests are part of ongoing welfare fraud investigations.

Again, a good thing.

But it's hard to see how the Corbett administration's decision to end temporary cash grants of about $200 a month to victims of domestic abuse, disabled or sick unemployed adults without children and others in need in order to save about $150 million out of a $27 billion state budget doesn't further burden counties and cities such as Philadelphia.

Arguments for the cuts, of course, include assertions such programs aren't effectively monitored and so are rife with fraud that eats up taxdollars.

But advocates for the poor argue tens of thousands in need will suffer, and that municipalties will face additional social costs because of the cuts; and that, eventually, that means increased tax spending for city programs, federal programs and health-care.

Wednesday, those who support ending general assistance got a "see, I told you so" thanks to the arrest of two welfare caseworkers.

In time, we'll see if another "I told you so" emerges.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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