Saturday, September 27, 2014

Goodbye Department of Public Welfare

Governor Corbett has signed a new law that changes the name of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to the Department of Human Services. The two word change results from the enactment of House Bill 993 (Act 132 of 2014).
According to a department press release, the Department of Public Welfare has more than 16,000 employees and oversees 94 county assistance offices. It is involved with adoption services, child protection services, juvenile justice facilities, state hospitals, long-term care, early childhood education, child support, Medicaid, employment and training services, mental health, and supports for individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities, among other things. Many of its services have little to do with what people traditionally think of as “welfare.”
"For the past several years, advocates, families, legislators, and providers have diligently worked to make this change happen," said department Secretary Beverly Mackereth. "Our new name will reflect the services and supports our agency currently provides to individuals and their families."
As an elder law attorney, I have had a number of clients who refused to apply for needed benefits because they didn’t want to accept “welfare.” The welfare stigma was a prime motivator for the name change, which was supported by five former Pennsylvania Governors, many former Welfare Secretaries, and a coalition of non-profit groups.   
The new law will take effect in November, but the change will be phased-in slowly in order to reduce costs. The law allows for the continued use of the welfare name on badges, licenses, contracts, deeds, stationary and any other official documents until existing supplies are exhausted. A reference to the Department of Public Welfare in a statute or a regulation shall be deemed a reference to the Department of Human Services.
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