Mr. Chairman, there is obviously in our community a great mood to reform welfare. Yet I am very disappointed in the Republican party. After 20 years they are still not able to reform welfare. My true suspicion, however, is that they never want to "reform welfare". Be that as it may, we can go along with many of the things in this bill -- we think that in some cases there are some good ideas, in some cases they are not that objectionable. However, Mr. Chairman, we find the provision to remove a quarter of a million Pennsylvanians from medical assistance the most reprehensible, mean spirited short sighted idea ever to come before the General Assembly.
It is one thing to say, we don't want people driving Cadillacs, although I haven't seen many of them on welfare. It is one thing to talk about some welfare recipient buying steak with food stamps -- I've never seen that lady either, but I've heard the story. But it is totally another thing to say that we want people to get sick and die. Medical Assistance is not a benefit that can be given out and you can take and bargain somewhere else...
And now you want to say to 250,000 people in PA - - "go get sick." And get real sick, and then when you are almost dying, you can go into the emergency room, maybe we'll save you and maybe we won't. It'll cost a lot more, but boy are we getting tough on welfare cheats...
Mr. President, the need for Medical Assistance is not the same as the need to remove fraud from the medical assistance community. It is not the same as wasteful spending. It is necessary spending. It is compassionate spending that I believe people have a right to.
And again there is manipulation in the truth by the Ridge Administration. They said that only 133,000 people will be affected. Quite a large number to begin with! But when the welfare Secretary came before this committee and I asked her, is it not a fact that the number is not 133,000 people, but 250,000 people, she said yes. What they meant to say was that it is 133,000 people in any given month. There are a quarter of a million citizens in this Commonwealth, albeit maybe not tax paying citizens, albeit maybe not voters because they are poor, or because they are turned off by the process, but they are still our responsibility. Government was designed to help people who cannot help themselves. The affluent do not need Medical Assistance. They can afford the best health care coverage.
These people need our help and again ironically within this quarter of a million people they are the very people who we constantly talk about wanting to get off of welfare. They are the working poor. They are the people who said to themselves, I no longer want to be a welfare recipient, I want to have some self pride for myself, I want my children to see me get up and go to work in the morning break the cycle of welfare.
But while those people are working -- and they are called the working poor -- the theory was, let's let those people keep their health care because if nothing else we are saving the welfare assistance check and creating a productive human being . This bill says to those people goodbye, you no longer have medical care...
Now at the same time, Governor Whitman in New Jersey came out with a plan to give medical benefits to the working poor -- to people who want to get off of welfare and get a job. We think that is the way to get people out of the welfare cycle. But what does Governor Ridge say, what does the welfare committee in the Pennsylvania Senate say, exactly the opposite.
And, I might add... to the fiscal conservatives: in the budget hearings, we asked Secretary Houstoun about the amount of money she was going to get back from the federal government. And low and behold, we found that they underestimated by how much -- by 200 million -- just enough to pay for this program.
When Tom Ridge talked about decent, honest, hard working Pennsylvanians, I took him at his word and I assumed he meant not decent honest wealthy hard working Pennsylvanians, but decent honest poor hard working Pennsylvanians. He has turned his back on them and I am urging you not to do that.
Let's take a look at another side of this. If you continue to do this, you will have taken $200-300 million out of the medical pot of money spent in this Commonwealth for medical services. What that translates into is either increased insurance premiums for those middle class working people -- especially those who are contributing to their health care costs now, and if not them, their employers that are paying their share, or both. They will have to put up that $200 million. That's a hidden tax you're passing by trying to do this.
There is another alternative. The hospitals that can no longer afford to exist when people come in and demand these services are going to close. And then someday, maybe in your districts -- probably not mine in the City of Philadelphia we have so many hospitals -- in those rural areas suburban areas, and ones along the fringe, someday one of your working constituents , one of your working tax paying constituents, is going to need a hospital that isn't going to be there. Because you decide to do this kind of, I believe short-sighted, cruel thing.
In addition to all that, if you persist in this, you are going to cost, probably going to cost a minimum of 5,000 jobs in the health care industry. And that means 5,000 people collecting unemployment, 5,000 people no longer being productive, 5,000 people who are soon to hit the welfare rolls -- if there is anything left -- and for what, and for what? These people are decent honest, hard working people trying to survive. And in other cases, they are second and third generation welfare recipients. But no one wants to address the source of that problem. All we want to say is, go out and fend for yourselves.
And how will they fend for themselves? In the end, no human being will starve, or get sick, or die for the good of the government. It doesn't happen in this society where those human beings sees affluence all around them. So they will steal and they will commit crimes...
You don't see the problem happen though. It happens in a statistic somewhere. I urge you to act with some compassion and some common sense. This is a dumb thing to do. I don't know who thought it up. I know you have a charge from the Governor to get it done, but let's be honest with ourselves... we don't have to inflict this kind of pain on a quarter of a million Pennsylvania citizens. They are not criminals. They are people who live in this state and have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo