City recipients react with resignation

November 27, 1991|By William F. Zorzi Jr.

At the Flag House Courts projects in downtown Baltimore yesterday, there was no outrage, little concern.

The state's proposed new welfare regulations were met with little more than resignation among the poor still stinging from news of the looming Dec. 1 benefits cut.

The latest plan seemed to be yet another bureaucratic weight on the shoulders of at least two mothers who daily fight the battle to raise their children in what they describe as a near no-win neighborhood.

Drugs are sold outside their doors. Shootings are common. The basketball court across the way is far more attractive than a desk at school. Maintenance at the city-run public housing project is months in coming, when it comes at all, residents say.

"If the kids hit 11th grade here, you got a miracle; if they make it out of school, it'll cause elation," said Mary K. Cheezum, a 49-year-old divorced mother of three teen-agers, all of whom have dropped out or are in the process of dropping out of school.

"Kids don't get out of school here," said Mrs. Cheezum, who has lived in the projects for a decade and is now recovering from her 12th surgery in the last 10 years.

"This is a different world here than any place else -- even other projects," she said, sitting on a folding chair in her dreary, cramped kitchen.

Both Mrs. Cheezum and C. Lisa Hagins, a 29-year-old mother of three also on welfare, viewed the proposed plan as a sign that the state may be cracking down on welfare abuse. And that is a notion they found encouraging, particularly if it is expanded to screen out recipients who spend their money on drugs.

"There's a lady who lives on my side who has five children and who blows it all on drugs. She gets $700 a month but she doesn't buy food or clothes for her children," said Ms. Hagins. "That's a waste of money. They need to screen these people."

The downside, she said, "is the effect on people like us, who are trying to make it, who are trying to provide for our families. It's hurting us."

The greater difficulty for the women -- two mothers a generation apart trying to raise families the best way they know -- is the prospect of reduced benefits solely because they live in rent-subsidized housing.

"It's going to be harder on us," said Ms. Hagins, a divorced mother with children ages 5, 6 and 8. "They act like we're privileged because we live here -- but we're not."

In addition, she pointed out, welfare recipients who live outside public housing already receive more food stamps than those who live in the projects.

And on what the state gives her each month, Mrs. Cheezum said, "I could not live outside of here. I can't."

If two of Mrs. Cheezum's three boys -- a 15- and 17-year-old, both of whom, she said, were hyperactive -- don't return to school, the new plan could cost her roughly $100 each month in welfare money.

But what are you going to do? she asked. "My kids won't go to school now," she said, citing peer pressure in the projects as one problem.

Mrs. Cheezum also lays the blame with the city school system, which she maintains does not do enough to stimulate and challenge youths to continue their education.

The prospect of losing the money is a problem she will have to deal with when it arises, she said.

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