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Push to change "Welfare" Department to "Human Services" - abc27 WHTM

Push to change "Welfare" Department to "Human Services"

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare was created in 1921. Critics say it's gotta go.

"Words matter, " said Brian Schreiber, Chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Non Profit Partnership who's pushing for the name change. "People matter. Ninety-eight percent of the funds are supporting human service needs, not public welfare needs. It's time to change the name."

Supporters prefer it to be called the Department of Human Services, which they argue is a more accurate description.

Bridgit Gaussa of Allegheny County was at a Capitol press conference Wednesday. She said her kids got services from the department after being born prematurely.

"I wasn't even aware that my children and I were part of the welfare system," said Gaussa. "Like most people, I assumed that the Welfare Department was only for people who were living off of the system and refusing to work."

What's in a name?

Just ask the Washington Redskins, who are taking heat nationally for a nickname perceived as insensitive to Native Americans.

Former lawmaker Dennis O'Brien pushed to change the name of the House's Health and Welfare Committee to the Health and Human Services committee.

O'Brien thinks the word "welfare" is demeaning. "It's diminishing to those people who are asking for those services. There is a stigma that attaches to it."

Many of you agreed on abc27's Facebook page. But there was this from Linda Dodson: "We're the only state that calls it like it is. Certainly being called "public welfare" hasn't deterred people from seeking its benefits!!"

An immediate conversion would cost an estimated $8 million, so Welfare Secretary Bev Mackereth, who supports the change, prefers a phase in over time.

"So as we change systems we change name so it would be a very slow process. That way we would not be taking money from individuals and using it for a name change."

Both the House and Senate have passed bills to change the name to Human Services but for supporters, having two successfully passed bills isn't quite good enough. For them, the change can't come fast enough.

"We respectfully ask them to get the job done and make the name change a reality," said Tony Ross, President of the United Way of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that still uses the term welfare.

All 67 counties in the commonwealth have agencies that deal with people in need. Every one of them is called Human Services, not Welfare.

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