There's a plan to change the name of the Department of Public Welfare even though the department doesn't really want it.
"The Department of Public Welfare is responsible for helping to provide programs and services to the neediest citizens in Pennsylvania," said department spokeswoman Carey Miller. Those services include child care, abuse prevention, and medicaid.
"Much of what they do is not welfare, 95% of what they do is not welfare as we know it," said Rep. Tom Murt of the 152nd District. That's he has introduced a bill to change its name to the Department of Human Services. He says it's long overdue. "Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that still uses the moniker public welfare for the mission of human services," he said.
The Welfare Department isn't as quick to jump on board. "Right now the department wants to focus on every dollar going to our neediest citizens," Miller said, "So we want to make sure that any dollars that we have available, we're using them for the programs and services that serve these Pennsylvanians."
The department says a lot of work would have to go into changing the name. The Harrisburg office alone would need a makeover, as well as the website. But that's not all. Signs, access cards, brochures, and applications would all need to be changed. The department says that will cost money.
There's conflicting reports about how much this would cost. The range is anywhere from $500,000 to $8 million! Representative Murt's not buying it. "We believe our legislation is close to being cost neutral," he said.
Others say the word "welfare" has a negative connotation, and the state should keep it to discourage people from using it. Murt disagrees. "We certainly should not be attempting to shame or humiliate people and families in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania that need assistance or have fallen on hard times," he said, "We need to show compassion and empathy for these individuals and I believe that my legislation accomplishes that."
The legislation has passed a committee. Next it will go to an appropriations committee to determine the exact cost. Then it heads to the house floor for a vote.
Representative Murt says if his bill passes, everything would not have to change at once. He says he supports the department and wants to give it more funding.