Sober but shaky after three days in detox, James Hawk slumped in a chair yesterday and fiddled with his welfare application.
The homeless 33-year-old was applying for General Public Assistance, Maryland's welfare program for poor people who can't work because of short-term physical and mental disabilities. He said he desperately needs the $205 monthly support checks to get off the streets and into treatment.
But Hawk's chance to turn his life around is in jeopardy. To balance the state's recession-damaged budget, Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced deep spending cuts yesterday that would wipe out the disability assistance, reduce other welfare benefits and force many drug-treatment programs to close.
More than 4,200 of Anne Arundel County's poorest residents will lose part or most of their benefits under the $450 million budget-reduction plan. Among them are single mothers, the elderly suffering from Alzheimer's disease, accident victims and alcoholics already living on the brink of destitution.
All of the county's non-profit, residential treatment programs will have to shut down if their state aid is slashed. The Anne Arundel Health Department also will have to sharply curtail programs to cope with a $1.247million loss in state money.
Advocates for the poor called the social spending cuts "a disaster" and predicted a dramatic surge in homelessness, crime and related problems. Eliminating General Public Assistance will swell the ranks of the homeless and strain already over-burdened charitable groups, they said.
"We already have so many people who are having a problem getting by," said Ruth Gillham, a volunteer with North County Emergency Outreach Network, an ecumenical coalition of 30 churches that provides emergency food and money for the poor. "Private groups are just going to be inundated with people."
Other human services leaders worried about finding shelter for those forced off the welfare rolls. Both Sarah's House, a large homeless shelter on the grounds of Fort Meade, and the newly opened Light House shelter in Annapolis are full most nights.
"We're running at capacity now, and I anticipate this is going to mean more people needing shelter," said Mary Lee Bradyhouse, director of Sarah's House. "Peoplealso are going to have a harder time getting out of the shelter and onto something more productive in life."
The governor's proposed cuts would eliminate nearly all aid to 792 Anne Arundel residents suffering from short-term disabilities. They would lose up to $205 a month in benefits and much of their medical insurance, only qualifying for about $110 a month in food stamps.
More than 3,400 single mothers also would lose part of their monthly welfare benefits. Schaefer has proposed trimming Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the state's largest welfare program, by 2.5 percent. The average monthly check of $406 for a family of three would be cut by about $9.
The county's welfare recipients were dismayed and angered by the news yesterday. Many said they didn't know how they would scrape by with less money.
"It's a large effect if you're a single parent and you have five children," said Patricia McDonald, who was re-applying for AFDC after losing her last job. "It's just not fair. It's just not right at all."
McDonald had a message for the governor. "He needs to start looking in different places. He needs to leave the people who are in need alone."
The directors of the county's residential addictions-treatment programs agreed. They were stunned by the proposed cut of $791,000 in state support.
David French, admission coordinator for Hope House in Crownsville, predicted the residential program would have to close its doors in November. Chrysalis House, Raft House, Second Genesis, Damascus, and Samaritan House also expect to severely curtail their programs or be out of business.
"It would be a complete disaster," French said.