The Schaefer administration announced plans yesterday for massive changes in the state's welfare programs -- including a proposal to cut benefits to families who don't take their children to the doctor and to school.
At a hastily called news conference, Human Resources Secretary Carolyn W. Colvin outlined the administration's intention to impose tough new rules in the main welfare program for families, cut thousands of disabled adults from a second program and eliminate a third program altogether.
The changes, the most sweeping that have been proposed by any state, would require the approval of the federal government and the state legislature. But Ms. Colvin said she is confident both will be forthcoming.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer told reporters that the plan was Ms. Colvin's idea but said he endorsed it staunchly. "This is the first time that anybody's really had the courage to look at the welfare system," he said.
The governor was asked if he was worried that children might suffer as their families' incomes were cut because of the actions of their parents. "It's not going to hurt them -- absolutely not," Mr. Schaefer said.
"The intention is just the opposite. The intention is to make people whoare on welfare do things that they should have been doing anyway."
Under the proposal, grants in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program -- which already have been reduced to 1989 levels because of the state's fiscal problems -- would be cut an additional 30 percent on July 1. Recipients could avoid the new cut, however, if they documented that they and their children see a doctor regularly, that their children attend school regularly and that they pay their rent on time.
"I think there has to be a clear message that if the state is going to help you to meet your needs, we expect you to meet certain responsibilities," Ms. Colvin said.
She said the only group of recipients who could not fully avoid the new cut would be those who live in public housing; their grants would be reduced by an as yet undetermined amount to reflect the rent subsidy they get from the federal government.
The state also would eliminate its General Public Assistance program for disabled adults and replace it with a more limited program offering grants only to those who could prove they could not work for at least a year. During the year, the grants could be withheld if they failed to show they were getting any necessary medical treatment.
Some people unable to work for shorter periods would be eligible for new state loans. But a quarter of the 24,000 people now getting GPA would no longer qualify for assistance.
"We have a large population that is not receiving the help and impetus it needs to go to work," Ms. Colvin said of the GPA changes, which she estimated would save the state $18 million a year. She said all the money saved would be returned to her department to finance expansions in other social programs.
The state also would eliminate its Emergency Assistance
program, which provides grants to families facing eviction or certain other crises, though a smaller federally funded program would continue. This cut would save the state more than $3 million a year, which again would be used to finance expansions in other social programs, Ms. Colvin said. But freeing the money for other uses wasn't the only reason for cutting aid for eviction prevention, other officials said.
"If we're telling people they have to pay their rent on time, we need to reinforce that message," said Tim Griffith, Ms. Colvin's top aide for welfare programs.
Ms. Colvin said repeatedly that the planned changes were aimed not at saving money, but at helping children and families.
"We can no longer do business as we have in the past. Because we are not helping families," she said.
"The problems that we've been grappling with are not getting better. Obviously, we've got to try to do some things differently."
Ms. Colvin said she believed that growing numbers of families on welfare are being evicted for non-payment of rent or losing their children to the foster care system as victims of neglect. She could offer no data to prove that, but said she was persuaded that major changes were needed to encourage some welfare recipients "to be more responsible."
Maryland could not impose the announced changes in the AFDC program without federal approval, but Ms. Colvin said she expected to get it. She said legislative approval would be needed for the changes in the GPA and Emergency Assistance programs, but said she expected that as well.
Nationally, a few states are experimenting with programs that link welfare grants to school attendance, but none have yet tried
anything as sweeping as the Maryland proposal. Ohio, for instance, offers a monthly bonus to teen parents on welfare if they meet certain school attendance requirements, while those who miss too much school lose a portion of their monthly check.