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Commonwealth Foundation Worries State Can't Afford Welfare Spending

A free-market think tank in Pennsylvania fears that public welfare spending is exceeding what the state can afford.

Elizabeth Stelle is a policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation, which compiled a report examining cases of fraud — like using welfare money for luxuries like landscaping or a six-person hot tub — rather than necessities like food. Stelle said she would prefer to see more reform in order to better correlate welfare spending with a drop in the poverty rate.

"We need to look at instilling things like work requirements," Stelle said. "Encouraging more time limits to make sure that the welfare system is becoming a hands up for folks and not becoming a lifestyle or a way of means."

She also suggested the state should pursue waivers from the federal government to allow more flexibility in how welfare programs are operated including things like Medicaid, which Stelle said is firmly set at 80 percent of the state's welfare spending.

"The federal government has very strict rules on how that money is spent and how that's distributed," Stelle said. "We think that Pennsylvanians know better than bureaucrats in Washington D.C., and they understand the best ways to use those funds and how to maximize them to help the most people."

The report claims the number of Pennsylvanians receiving food stamp benefits is at an all-time high, while welfare spending is increasing faster than that of personal income and state tax revenue growth.

"This is not an attack on the poor, it's an attack on poor policy," Stelle said. "If we don't do anything about our welfare spending, it's not only going to hurt taxpayers, it's also going to be a detriment to those who depend on welfare benefits."