Name change too costly

An often quoted piece of advice suggests that if people take care of their pennies, nickels and dimes, then the dollars take care of themselves.

That’s a good practice for individuals, families and governments.

Unfortunately, our state lawmakers seem to be ignoring it by supporting a measure that will change the name of the state Department of Welfare to the state Department of Human Services – at an estimated expense of $1 million.

The Senate recently voted unanimously to make the name change and sent the bill back to the House, which previously passed a version of the same legislation. Gov. Tom Corbett’s office says he currently supports the measure.

Considering that Pennsylvania’s 2014-15 budget adds up to $29.1 billion, perhaps the lawmakers see the estimated $1 million expense as affordable. But $1 million is the kind of money that, if saved today, can help our state take care of tomorrow’s dollars.

And at a time when state revenue has been falling short of projections, now is when our state should be saving, rather than spending.

Supporters of the name change will counter that they have been asking for several years to have the welfare department’s name changed to the department of human services. They say the word “welfare” carries a stigma associated with government handouts.

Supporters also say the department handles a variety of human services that go beyond a simple definition of welfare.

In addition to financial assistance for the needy, the department’s work includes adoptions, the prevention of child abuse, senior citizen programs and services for those with mental and physical disabilities.

While such services may or may not involve financial help, all of those efforts reflect an attention to personal well-being or welfare, in a broader definition of that word.

Nevertheless, many states have already changed the name of their welfare departments, and it seems Pennsylvania will be doing the same. So if it’s going to happen, we encourage lawmakers to do what they can to limit the expense.

A year ago, when the state House considered a bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Murt, R-Montgomery, he suggested a gradual phase-in strategy to limit the expense associated with the name change.

The bill required the department to keep using existing supplies of licenses, stationary and other official documents, until the supplies with the old name were exhausted.

It also required agency signs bearing the old name to remain in place until “worn or in need of replacement,” which could be coordinated with changes in state administration – meaning January 2015 at the earliest, or possibly not for another four years after that.

These are the kind of the ideas that will help the state restrict its spending. But if the welfare department were to retain its name, there wouldn’t be any expense.