Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Regan of Dillsburg is confident the Pennsylvania House will take up his bill that would ban some who have been convicted of selling drugs from receiving welfare benefits. While the bill was stalled in the House earlier this year, representatives are expected to vote after they return to session on July 21.
Regan, who used to work for the U.S. Marshals Service, wrote the measure after he says had seen firsthand drug dealers with thousands of dollars in cash of likely drug money who were also receiving welfare benefits.
"Someone with such large sums of cash doesn’t need government assistance," Regan said. “I truly believe in the welfare system. There are people who truly need it and I get that,” he said. “They are the people who get shortchanged, and we want to stop that. They truly need the benefits, and it’s being siphoned off by those who don’t.”
The bill was voted out of committee recently. It’s one of two Regan introduced this session. The other one prohibits sex offenders who are violating Megan’s Law registration requirements from receiving public assistance. It passed the Pennsylvania House unanimously and is working its way through other parts of congress, reports York Dispatch.
The drug dealer bill means anyone sentenced to five to 10 years in prison for certain drug crimes while receiving public assistance would be banned from the welfare programs for 20 years. It does not apply to summary or misdemeanor crimes, only felonies, reported Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The bill had called for a lifetime ban but was amended after critics thought it was too harsh. It provides exemptions for those forced into the drug trade, such as a woman who has been abused and children of those deemed ineligible.
“I’m not attempting to be coldhearted,” Regan said. “I think I’m being really agreeable to the other side.”
Critics of the bill say that it may lead to recidivism, as rehabilitated drug dealers may return to a life of crime because they cannot otherwise make ends meet.
It perpetuates the mindset of “once a criminal, always a criminal,” said Democrat Rep. Kevin Schreiber from York City.
“If you peel back the layers, you quickly see this has the potential to degrade our corrections system, the rehabilitation process and increase recidivism,” Schreiber said.
The Department of Human Services requires welfare applicants convicted of drug felony charges to take drug tests to be eligible for benefits. Democratic Rep. Flo Fabizio of Erie said that’s enough to make sure people aren’t scamming the system. Of Regan’s bill, she said, “Frankly, I don’t think the bill is necessary.”