Oberlander Backs Bill that Would Prevent Drug Dealers from Receiving Welfare Benefits

| June 22, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. (EYT) – Since Governor Tom Wolf declared heroin and opioid usage in Pennsylvania a statewide disaster emergency on January 10, Wolf and legislators from across the Commonwealth have been hard at work creating “pieces of the puzzle” that can hopefully be put together to effectively combat the opioid usage that is so negatively impacting the state.

On June 5, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives created another piece to that puzzle by voting on an act that would amend the Human Services Code that was enacted in 1967. Known as the “Kingpin” provision, this act calls for individuals who have been convicted multiple times of large-scale drug distribution to become ineligible to receive Pennsylvania welfare benefits.

The measure passed 137-59.

Sponsored by Representative Jim Cox (Berks and Lancaster counties), House Bill 129 seeks to not only combat the opioid epidemic across the state but to also prevent individuals from abusing the welfare system by ensuring those who receive the benefits are truly in need of the services.

In a memo to all House members, Cox outlined his reasons for sponsoring the bill.

“I will be offering legislation that will prevent those convicted of drug distribution crimes from receiving welfare benefits,” Cox said. “Often, when individuals are arrested for drug trafficking crimes, a subsequent search reveals large sums of money and information indicating that the individual was receiving welfare benefits.”

Speaking to exploreClarion.com from Harrisburg on Thursday morning, Representative Donna Oberlander explained her support of House Bill 129.

“This is just one piece of the puzzle,” Oberlander said. “Ever since Governor Wolf’s declaration of a statewide emergency, there has been much action taken to combat this issue. There has been more money dedicated for individuals suffering from addiction to get treatment. There has also been more effort placed on educating doctors as well as individuals about the effects of opioids.

“None of these actions by themselves are going to fix the epidemic. They are, however, each a piece to the puzzle that can hopefully help fix the problem when put together.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has declared the opioid epidemic the worst public health crisis in Pennsylvania.

In 2016, Pennsylvania had the fourth highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number increased an astounding 37 percent from 2015 as Pennsylvania lost 4,642 residents to overdose deaths. In comparison, 1,252 died in car accidents.

While some critics contend that this action is the wrong way to combat addiction, Oberlander stressed that this bill does not strip welfare benefits from those who are battling addictions. Instead, it seeks to attack those that are causing the addictions by distributing large quantities of opioids through cities and towns across the state.

“This bill is not intended to pursue those who are battling addiction issues,” Oberlander said. “What it does intend to do is pursue those who are creating the addictions across our communities by delivering large quantities of drugs.”

Oberlander went on to explain that becoming ineligible for welfare benefits would not be a punishment for a first-time offender.

“Those who are convicted the first time will have an opportunity to undergo treatment and better themselves before they would lose their opportunity to collect benefits,” Oberlander said. “Who we are targeting are those who are repeatedly identified and convicted of distributing large quantities of drugs.”

The bill will now move on to the Senate. Similar legislation was passed in the House in 2015-2016 by a 170-20 margin but was not considered in the Senate during that term.


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