Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hello Big Brother: Welfare Secretary given power to change rules without normal oversight

Pennsylvania’s new Act 22, (House Bill 960 - passed by the House and Senate and signed by the Governor on June 30th) appears to give new Welfare Secretary designate Gary Alexander new power to change welfare rules and issue new regulations without following normal administrative procedures. The Secretary’s actions are exempted from regulatory review. Note the highlighted portions of Section 2 of the Act:

Section 2.  The act is amended by adding sections to read:
Section 403.1.  Administration of Assistance Programs.‑‑(a)  The department is authorized to establish rules, regulations, procedures and standards consistent with law as to the administration of programs providing assistance, including regulations promulgated under subsection (d), that do any of the following:
(1)  Establish standards for determining eligibility and the nature and extent of assistance.
(2)  Authorize providers to condition the delivery of care or services on the payment of applicable copayments.
(3)  Modify existing benefits, establish benefit limits and exceptions to those limits, establish various benefit packages and offer different packages to different recipients, to meet the needs of the recipients.
(4)  Establish or revise provider payment rates or fee schedules, reimbursement models or payment methodologies for particular services.
(5)  Restrict or eliminate presumptive eligibility.
(6)  Establish provider qualifications.
(b)  The department is authorized to develop and submit State plans, waivers or other proposals to the Federal Government, and to take such other measures as may be necessary to render the Commonwealth eligible for available Federal funds or other assistance.
(c)  Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the department shall take any action specified in subsection (a) as may be necessary to ensure that expenditures for State fiscal year 2011-2012 for assistance programs administered by the department do not exceed the aggregate amount appropriated for such programs by the act of    (P.L.  , No.  ), known as the General Appropriation Act of 2011. The department shall seek such waivers or Federal approvals as may be necessary to ensure that actions taken pursuant to this section comply with applicable Federal law. During State fiscal year 2011-2012, the department shall not enter into a new contract for consulting or professional services unless the department determines that:
(1)  it does not have sufficient staff to perform the services and it would be more cost effective to contract for the services than to hire new staff to provide the services; or
(2)  it does not have staff with the expertise required to perform the services.
(d)  For purposes of implementing subsection (c), and notwithstanding any other provision of law, including section 814-A, the secretary shall promulgate regulations pursuant to section 204(1)(iv) of the act of July 31, 1968 (P.L.769, No.240), referred to as the "Commonwealth Documents Law," which shall be exempt from the following:
(1)  Section 205 of the "Commonwealth Documents Law."
(2)  Section 204(b) of the act of October 15, 1980 (P.L.950, No.164), known as the "Commonwealth Attorneys Act."
(3)  The act of June 25, 1982 (P.L.633, No.181), known as the "Regulatory Review Act."
(e)  The regulations promulgated under subsection (d) may be retroactive to July 1, 2011, and shall be promulgated no later than June 30, 2012.

Apparently, DPW has agreed to provide a 30 day period during which the public or legislators can comment on its regulatory changes. 

Representative Mauree Gingerich R-Cleona, who sponsored the code overhaul, is quoted in the Harrisburg Patriot News as saying: “We’re giving an opportunity for the secretary and the good people in his department to get some work done.” 

Read more:

Welfare advocates object to new rule allowing DPW to re-write welfare code

 Not too many cheers in Philly for on-time Pa. budget

Pa. lawmakers give gov. more power in welfare law

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