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It doesn't greatly disappoint me that there are Republicans in the PA Legislature who hate the idea of "welfare" so much that they want to take away millions of dollars that were supposed to go to helping people in need and instead spend them on renaming the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to be the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. What greatly disappoints me is that there are so many Democrats in the PA Legislature backing them up.

State Representative Thomas Murt (R - 152nd District, Montgomery county) is the outspoken sponsor of this legislation in the PA House. He has two primary arguments - we are the only state that calls it that, and he doesn't like the idea of "welfare." Well I say, too bad and get a dictionary. "We're the only ones..." is such comically bad reasoning it hardly deserves a response, but the point about what "welfare" implies is much more troubling. It's basically the self-fulfilling prophecy of conservative talking points. Conservatives act like welfare is a bad thing and people taking welfare when they need it is something to be ashamed of, so now conservatives say there's a stigma around the Department of Public Welfare that necessitates a name change. Murt writes:

Changing DPW’s name would more accurately reflect the department’s mission, which is to “promote, improve and sustain the quality of family life, break the cycle of dependency and protect and serve Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens.”  ... Continuing to view the consumers the department serves as merely “welfare recipients” taints the reality of those who need real help. ...

For me, a name change is mostly about respect. Few Pennsylvanians would ever want to be on welfare. Those on it would prefer a job and respect rather than unemployment and scorn. And those who aren’t on welfare don’t want to be associated with it.

I have an idea. If you're concerned about the scorning of people on welfare, how about you stop scorning people on welfare? Instead of assuming that everyone in the commonwealth agrees with you, you might consider what your opinion of people on welfare as "merely" welfare recipients unworthy of "respect" says about you as an individual. Talk about tainted reality.
PA State Representative Thomas Murt
This kind of abuse of the term "welfare" is a real pet peeve of mine. Anyone who's sworn an oath of office in this country ought to know better. State Representatives in Pennsylvania take an oath of office to uphold the US Constitution as well as the PA Constitution. You may be familiar with the preamble to the US Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
This is the part of the Constitution that states what the purpose of the document is. The three branches of government and all the other ideas in it are established with the goal of, among other things, promoting the general welfare. The PA Constitution contains no less than five references to the "welfare of the Commonwealth." This guy has sworn an oath to uphold these documents, yet he only has negative associations with the word welfare. So let's take a look at dictionary definitions of welfare:
noun
1.
the good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organization; well-being: to look after a child's welfare; the physical or moral welfare of society.
2.
welfare work.
3.
financial or other assistance to an individual or family from a city, state, or national government: Thousands of jobless people in this city would starve if it weren't for welfare.
4.
( initial capital letter  ) Informal. a governmental agency that provides funds and aid to people in need, especially those unable to work.
Idioms
5.
on welfare, receiving financial aid from the government or from a private organization because of hardship and need.
And now let's take a look at a list of things that Murt says of course can't be welfare, because they sound like * gasp * obviously worthwhile social endeavors:
If you have a child with an intellectual disability, he or she is entitled to human services from the county. If you have a brother who has schizophrenia or another mental illness, he is entitled to services from the county. If a parent struggles with a powerful substance addiction, he or she is entitled to treatment from the county. If a homeless child needs a place to sleep, a youth in foster care seeks help, or a wife and mother is married to an abuser, counties have to be there to help. Does this sound like welfare?
Yeah dude, that sure as hell does sound like welfare to me! These are all examples of help provided to people in need to ensure greater health and happiness for them. Murt continues:
Is a grandmother who worked her entire life in a hospital laundry room but now needs long-term care a welfare recipient? Is a family receiving full Medicaid coverage for a severely disabled child a welfare recipient? And what about a close family member who, through no fault of his own, suffers from schizophrenia and requires constant care? Is this a welfare recipient? No.
Wrong, moron! Either your political persona or your brain has been so manipulated by conservative talking points about how people on welfare are all moochers who don't really need any help but are quite content to live off of government programs they don't deserve that you're losing your handle on the English language. You are, in fact, listing example after example of why welfare is important and conservatives who demonize people on welfare programs, in addition to being woefully ignorant, are also deeply cruel and inhumane.

But the cruelty and inhumanity don't just stop at the rhetoric. There are great costs associated with the name change - costs that would eat away at funds intended to help these most vulnerable people among us. There are real people in Pennsylvania in need of help who could have it taken from them if the money is spent on this name change instead.

Acting Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare Beverly Mackereth says that the cost of changing the name of the department would be a whopping $8 million. Murt claimed to have dealt with the costs of the name change by implementing it over time - replacing stationary and signs when they need replacing instead of all at once - but Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman Anne Bale suggests Murt has it wrong.

"The department has very sophisticated computer programs in place to determine eligibility, to track our customers. We deal a lot with health care. So, it’s very sophisticated computer programming. [$8 million] is a very conservative estimate that we came up with. ... We have to focus our limited resources on the programs we have, and we can’t get involved in a name change," said Bale. The costs are mostly centered around computer programming, they're not going to be eliminated by delayed implementation.

Another Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman, Carey Miller, says that "We certainly don't think that a name change for the department is a bad idea. However, we feel the timing isn't quite right when we are trying to focus limited resources on addressing the wait lists for intellectual disabilities and older Pennsylvanians." Miller also says that every single dollar spent on the name change is "one less dollar for those who utilize DPW benefits."

Let me be clear, the name of the department alone is a mostly semantic matter that I don't think needs to be a top public policy priority for PA progressives. But the notion that we should take millions of dollars of help away from those in the most dire straits because conservative Republicans like Murt say, "If we want to reduce or eliminate welfare in Pennsylvania, let’s start with the name," is a callous, immoral outrage.

And the most disappointing thing about PA's war on "welfare" for me is the wide support it's receiving from PA Democrats. I don't have to think hard to figure out why the Republicans are supporting this, it fits right into their modus operandi, but why in the name of almighty Crom high on his mountain so many Democrats are endorsing it is beyond me.

As HB 993 in the PA House, this legislation is cosponsored by a number of leading Democrats who have been highly critical of past Republican plans to cut welfare spending, including Minority Leader Frank Dermody (33rd District, Allegheny county), Democratic Policy Chair Mike Sturla (96th District, Lancaster county), Finance Committee Minority Chair Phyllis Mundy (120th District, Luzerne county), Gaming Oversight Committee Minority Chair Rosita Youngblood (198th District, Philadelphia county), Insurance Committee Minority Chair Anthony DeLuca (32nd District, Allegheny county) - and about half of the Democrats on the PA House Health Committee, including Health Committee Minority Chair Florindo Fabrizio (2nd District, Erie county), Health Care Subcommittee Minority Chair Vanessa Brown (190th Distict, Philadelphia county), Pamela DeLissio (194th District, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties), and Michael Schlossberg (132nd District, Lehigh county).

As SB 840 in the PA Senate, this legislation also has a significant number of Democratic cosponsors who are typically critical of PA GOP proposals to slash welfare, including Minority Leader Jay Costa (43rd District, Allegheny county), Appropriations Committee Minority Chair Vincent Hughes (7th District, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties), Law & Justice Committee Minority Chair Jim Ferlo (38th District, Allegheny, Armstrong, and Westmoreland counties), Finance Committee Minority Chair John Blake (22nd District, Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Monroe counties) - and three of the four Democratic members of the PA Senate Public Health & Welfare Committee, Judith Schwank (11th District, Berks county), Rob Teplitz (15th District, Dauphin and York counties), and Sean Wiley (49th District, Erie county).

But why do so many Democrats think this is a good idea? We're talking about Pennsylvanians struggling to barely get by - hungry, worrying about where their next meal is coming from, how they're going to afford their medicine and keep a roof over their heads, taking care of kids and parents, working hard for less than a livable wage - who could stop getting the help they need from the Department of Public Welfare so that it can instead spend that money on changing its name to the Department of Human Services. If Democrats are so frightened by conservative talking points about welfare, maybe they should stand up and fight back - speak out about why welfare isn't a "taint" on society but rather a necessary, humane social endeavor called for by the Constitution. Instead of capitulating to the conservative base that has tried to stigmatize the idea of welfare, remember that you can energize the progressive base that thinks welfare is quintessentially patriotic and will have your back - if you deserve it.

Originally posted to ProgressivePatriotPA on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 12:05 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKos Pennsylvania and The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.

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