Schaefer budget cuts could put thousands of the disabled on the street

October 01, 1991|By Lynda Robinson

Robert Millner only receives $205 in state assistance each month, but the check pays for his federally subsidized room in South Baltimore.

Without it, the 48-year-old disabled construction worker could find himself in the same place as last winter -- on the streets.

"I'm only one step away from that predicament," Mr. Millner said last night after learning that Gov. William Donald Schaefer plans to eliminate the $40 million General Public Assistance Program as part of massive state budget cuts.

The program staves off destitution for 24,000 Marylanders who cannot work because of physical or mental disabilities.

Lynda Meade, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Alliance for the Poor, said eliminating the assistance program will have devastating consequences.

"I think there will be 24,000 people in life-threatening jeopardy," she said. "These are the poorest of the poor. It leaves them with absolutely nothing."

Eliminating the program will dramatically swell the ranks of Maryland's homeless, imprisoned and institutionalized, she predicted.

Even if only 10 percent were imprisoned or institutionalized, it would cost Maryland $20 million, Ms. Meade said.

In fact, the state considered cutting general public assistance in March, but decided the costs would outweigh the savings.

Only single adults with assets of less than $3,000 qualify for the program, Ms. Meade said. The average recipient is in his or her early 40s and suffers from some kind of physical or mental illness that makes working impossible.

In addition to their monthly checks, those in the program also get state medical assistance and $105 a month in food stamps.

In many cases, though, the assistance isn't enough to keep people off the streets.

Mr. Millner lost his job and apartment a year ago after a cement mixer almost slashed his thumb off at a Howard County construction site. His employer didn't have worker's compensation insurance, and Mr. Millner required microscopic surgery on his hand.

"All my life I've been working," he said. "I didn't even know where a shelter was."

He spent the winter moving from one shelter to another, then suffered a heart attack in April.

The future looked grim until Associated Catholic Charities opened Holden Hall, a federally subsidized rooming house for 14 homeless men on Hamburg Street.

Mr. Millner pays $52 a month for a furnished room with money from his $205 monthly check. Even with the assistance, he finds it difficult to make ends meet and often eats at area soup kitchens.

Eventually, Mr. Millner hopes to work again. Until then, all he wants to do is hold onto what little he has.

"They should be helping us, not hurting us," Mr. Millner said. "Don't let [the governor] take the last thing from us -- our beds."

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