Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare is poised to get a makeover.
The agency would become Department of Human Services under a bill approved this week in the state Legislature. The governor is expected to sign the measure.
For a year-and-a-half, supporters of the proposal have argued that the word “welfare” is too stigmatized to be part of the moniker for a state agency, while some skeptical lawmakers thought a name change was nothing but window dressing. Staunch conservatives thought it would be folly to bend to the concerns of political correctness, with some saying that Pennsylvanians should feel some discomfort at the idea of receiving benefits from the state.
But DPW Secretary Bev Mackereth said “public welfare” doesn’t accurately represent her agency, which also provides child protection, mental health services, and health care.
“When you talk about just giving dollars to individuals who could be working — that’s not who we are anymore,” Mackereth said. “That’s not what we do.”
The transition will be gradual in order to keep costs down. Old signs can be replaced only with a change in administration, and they must be well-worn.
“As we proceed to run out of things, to do things, to make upgrades, to make changes, that will be our opportunity to put out the new name to people,” Mackereth said. “As we run out of forms, we’ll get the new name on the form.”
There is one carrot in the legislation for conservatives: it requires the agency to set up a new toll-free telephone number and email address to report suspected fraud or abuse. Businesses and facilities that accept food stamps or medical assistance will have to advertise the fraud tip line.
Supporters say Pennsylvania is the last state in the country to use “public welfare” as its agency moniker for the broad range of services for the poor and vulnerable.