Poor, disabled hit hard by cuts in Human Resources The difference between paying rent and eviction.

October 02, 1991|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

Quincy Williams knew he was living close to the edge, but he says he didn't expect Gov. William Donald Schaefer to push him over it.

Williams, 42, has been on general public assistance for 18 months. With that $205 monthly payment, along with $105 in food stamps and a Medical Assistance card, he could just swing the $200 rent on the Lanvale Street apartment he found last month.

"The way it's going now, once I get the apartment, I'm not going to be able to pay for it," said Williams, who has been living in shelters since he tore an artery in his left leg in a car accident two years ago. Because his disability is considered temporary, he doesn't qualify for federal aid.

Until yesterday, Maryland was one of 25 states that stepped in to help those ineligible for federal programs such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income. Now people like Williams -- single men and women injured in accidents or suffering from mental illness -- are shouldering a large share of the state's $450 million budget cut.

The Department of Human Resources, which had to cut $52 million, saved $41.8 million by dropping general public assistance. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene saved $54.4 million by eliminating its "state-only" Medical Assistance program, which serves the same population of 24,000 public assistance clients, along with 7,000 others.

"We are lucky as an agency because we have no personnel cuts, we don't have the internal dilemmas other departments have," DHR spokeswoman Helen Szablya said yesterday.

"But we have a desperate dilemma outside. It's a chain reaction. Those non-profits that are already overwhelmed are going to be even more so."

The affected programs, unlike Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Medicaid, are not federally mandated, so the state is free to cut them. As a result, the public assistance clients -- 75 percent of whom live in Baltimore -- took a double hit.

"Without that GPA, people can't live," said Stanley Davis, 29, who started receiving the monthly payments after a stab wound made it impossible for him to do heavy lifting.

Even with general public assistance, people don't live well. Davis and Williams go to local soup kitchens in order to stretch their food stamps. Others on public assistance live in shelters, or sleep outside while the weather is good.

Others rely on general public assistance to sustain them while waiting for federal assistance, which can involve months of hearings.

Randolph Brown, 38, who has a history of mental illness and seizures, stopped receiving his federal benefits while in prison. Released in August, he found out it would take several months before he could start receiving his $407 federal check. But public assistance was readily available.

"I thank God I had this until I got my SSI," Brown said.

While the cuts to state-only programs were the most severe, programs like Aid to Families with Dependent Children were not immune. Those welfare payments, typically received by single women with children, were cut 2.5 percent.

That reduction pushes the program back to its 1990 levels, with a mother and two children receiving $391.95 a month, instead of $402. The $10 difference can mean the difference between paying rent and being evicted, one advocate said.

"It sounds minuscule, but the incidence of homelessness is going to double," said Esther Reaves, director of the Midtown Churches Community Association, which helps to feed and shelter the homeless. "I don't know what non-profits are going to do. We're scraping bottom now."

Other social service cuts, while small within the scope of the massive deficit, also will have a profound impact. The Human Resources agency saved $800,000 by eliminating funds for rape crisis programs, which may end up closing some of the state's 17 centers.

"You will see some centers shut down completely, the others will cut services dramatically," said Liz Style, program coordinator for Baltimore's Sexual Assault Recovery Center.

Her center depended on the state for 60 percent of its $600,000 budget. Since 1988, funding for rape crisis centers has been frozen, Style said, and workers had worried about losing funds.

"We never expected to hear it would be the total budget," Style said.

However, representatives from the centers are lobbying hard to have funding restored, she said. Staff members converged on Annapolis yesterday, armed with information about the rising rate of forcible rape in Maryland, up 23 percent in the past year.

"Whenever the economy is rough, women and children tend not to take precedent," Style said. "That's also when we see the rise in violence against women and children."

In another cut that will affect youngsters, the governor proposed eliminating all 43 counselors assigned to local Youth Service Bureaus by the Department of Juvenile Services. The firings would save $2.8 million. Youth Service Bureaus help youngsters who have drug, alcohol and family problems.

Other social service cuts included:

* A 3 percent reduction in the rate paid to institutional foster care providers, for a cut of $1,355,500.

* A 58 percent cut in contracts for home attendant care, $746,000.

* Elimination of Title XX social service block grants for Montgomery County and Baltimore, $545,000.

* A 3 percent cut for Women's Services contracts, $60,000.

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