ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer has endorsed a proposal to close off Maryland's welfare program to any new people for the remainder of the fiscal year because too many people are qualifying under existing rules and the state can't afford to support them.
In addition, the state's disability payment program would toughen its eligibility standards, and a program that pays lawyers to represent poor clients in 12 rural counties would be dropped.
The cuts in the three programs -- proposed by the state Department of Human Resources -- are designed to offset a further projected $9.4 million shortfall in the public assistance program, said Helen Szablya, a spokeswoman for the department.
Public assistance provides benefits to poor people who do not qualify for any federal welfare programs. The cutback would place a cap of 21,500 on the number of people the state can assist at one time.
Under the proposal presented to legislative leaders Monday, only a person who develops a disability that is expected to last at least six months would qualify for state benefits. Currently, a 30-day disability can qualify for payment from the program.
The state disability program pays benefits only to individuals who do not qualify for federal disability aid.
The agency's Judicare program has served an estimated 2,000 rural poor each year, paying lawyers $30 an hour and up to $500 for their work in civil matters such as divorces or child custody cases.
Dropping the program would forcepeople on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland to depend more on volunteer and pro bono aid.