PRIMARY election results and a Times Mirror survey reinforce some rather grim news: People have stopped voting! Whether the culprit is apathy or cynicism, the survey indicates that voter apathy "threatens to block the effective resolution of social and economic issues."
Now more than ever, the stakes are incredibly high. Our military presence in the Middle East continues to take its toll. For sure, oil costs will escalate. The cost of living is climbing. Closer to home, the state budget is riveted with deficiencies.
Poverty, always persistent, is slithering into a growing number Lynda E.Meadeof households. Families feel the pinch, if not the bite, of higher prices for shoes, slickers and soup. The quest for affordable housing is turning dreams into nightmares. The times dictate that there be greater resolve to address basic human needs.
The fact remains that one in seven Marylanders continues to live in or near poverty. As the economic squeeze tightens, the number is sure to climb. Already, one in four children is born into poverty. The number of homeless -- especially families -- is on the rise. Today in Maryland there are temporarily disabled adults whose entire income is $10 a day. Over 100,000 pregnant women, infants and children are eligible for a supplemental nutrition program, yet 39,000 are not served. Over 60,000 children in poor households are medically uninsured.
Lest you wonder, poverty isn't endemic to just a few areas. Poverty permeates every single jurisdiction in Maryland, the sixth wealthiest state in the nation.
The Maryland Alliance for the Poor (MAP), a coalition of groups involved in the war on poverty, decided to test the political waters. MAP wanted to determine the course charted on these issues by our soon-to-be-elected officials. A lengthy, comprehensive questionnaire was sent to all candidates for the state Senate and House of Delegates.
The response from Democrats and Republicans showed overwhelming support for expanding proven, effective state programs which prevent or reduce poverty or offer a safety net when circumstances dictate substantial need.
Over 90 percent of our respondents believe emergency and transitional shelter for the homeless should be expanded, that state funds should be used to expand the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program and that the pool of matching grants should be enhanced to help more soup kitchens and food pantries meet the growing demand.
More than four of five candidates who replied indicated that there should be a housing counselor in every jurisdiction to help the homeless locate and maintain permanent housing, that the current renters' tax credit program (which helps the elderly and disabled) should be expanded, that medical assistance should cover 6- and 7-year-old children in poor households and that benefits for disabled adults on welfare should equal the state's minimum poverty level.
Some of these programs get to the very heart of the needs of the working poor. Others help the most vulnerable and fragile of our citizens.
Perhaps most telling were the comments. Wrote one candidate: "I am committed to increasing Maryland's concern for the poor through making people programs a higher priority for funding. This state and this country must rediscover [their] heart. We must do more to help our most needy citizens."
For sure, there are other issues in Tuesday's election. But it's likely more people will be scooped into the poverty net. For the lucky ones who aren't, compassion for our fellow men, women and children is a reflection of our moral fiber. Think of that when you vote.
Lynda E. Meade is director of social concerns for Associated Catholic Charities of Maryland.