More people are being shot down for welfare benefits in Pennsylvania than two years ago — a sign the state says points to an improving economy but advocates for the poor say stems from a change in state law that has muddied an already difficult process.
In February, the state turned down 75 percent of the applications for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, according to the state Department of Public Welfare.
The monthly rejection rate had been in the low 60 percent range until July 2012. That’s when the state began requiring people to apply for three jobs a week while their applications were under review.
Previously, the job search requirement was implemented after an applicant had been approved.
Advocates for the poor say the welfare rejection rate has climbed because county assistance offices aren’t telling people to look for jobs while they wait to hear whether they are approved.
They are so alarmed over the spike in rejections that they want the state to investigate. By comparison, the state rejects up to 49 percent of Medicaid and up to 40 percent of food stamp applicants every month.
“We’re continuing to be concerned about this,” said Richard Weishaupt, a senior attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, who has been in contact with the welfare department on the matter. “And we continue to ask [the department] to collect more data and drill down to find out why the rate is so high.”
Alan Jennings, executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, said he thinks the application change was created to get people off welfare — even if they need it.
“Almost every change in welfare has been designed to get people off the system,” he said. “But not in a way that’s intended to improve their lives. It’s just to get them off welfare.”
My friend L., who killed herself in January, worked for a state rep’s office and I know this situation weighed heavily on her mind. She talked about the desperate people who called the office every day, looking for some kind of help.
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There wasn't anything she could do. So she went home and drank. She told me she thought a lot of them were going to kill themselves because they had nowhere left to turn.
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