Pennsylvania may reassess Act 22, law that permitted welfare cuts

Gary Alexander used "Act 22" to slash welfare programs.
Gary Alexander used "Act 22" to slash welfare programs.
Posted: February 13, 2013

A legislative "midnight special" on June 30, 2011, gave Gary Alexander, the now-departing secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, the power to make sweeping changes to regulations and fees in DPW programs with no review.

In moves that garnered headlines, Alexander, who is leaving the job Friday, instituted an asset-test for food-stamp recipients and dropped 130,000 people from Medicaid. But hardly any area of the state's health and human-services system was left untouched by "Act 22."

Alexander, who began the post in January 2011, limited Medicaid beneficiaries to six prescriptions per month and eliminated money for nurses who visit the elderly living at home with the help of attendants, among other complicated regulatory changes designed, in part, to slow the growth of DPW spending.

Repeatedly, leaders of organizations that serve the poor, the elderly, and the disabled have urged an audit of the Act 22 changes at DPW. In an interview Monday, Pennsylvania's new auditor general, Eugene DePasquale, said: "We are certainly taking that request very seriously. It is high on our radar screen.

"There's no question that a lot of people want to know what was the true impact of that law," he said. "Did it really weed out any waste, fraud and abuse?"

DePasquale said he would know within the next month whether his department would undertake the audit. "It's not a quick audit. I want to make sure that we can actually do it and do it right," he said.

Thomas Earle, chief executive of Liberty Resources Inc., a Philadelphia nonprofit that helps the disabled live independently, expressed little doubt on the outcome of an audit of Alexander's efforts.

"His mantras of 'serving our most vulnerable citizens' and eliminating 'fraud and waste' were successful as misleading propaganda with no measurable results," Earle said.

DPW does not have a tally of estimated savings, spokeswoman Anne Bale said, saying there was too little time late Monday to prepare an overall statement about Act 22.

The head of one nonprofit that depends on DPW funding called the law's impact mind-boggling.

"I think it's almost unbelievable that one person could come in and reorder so much in such a short space of time, and now he's gone," said Nancy Murray, president of the Arc of Greater Pittsburgh, a nonprofit agency devoted to disability issues.

"When Act 22 was enacted in the early-morning hours of the last day of June, I think that set the tone for everybody," one that was characterized by a "total lack of transparency" and a "total lack of respect," Murray said.

Holly Lange, president of the nonprofit Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, which helps administer DPW-funded services for the elderly, said there have been positive signs of change at the agency.

"The administration recognized that there were some unintended consequences, and we as a group are now working to correct that," Lange said.

A group including DPW officials and area aging-agency officials started meeting last last month in Harrisburg, Lange said.


Contact Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or hbrubaker@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|