Major changes proposed in state welfare program Actions called move to "client responsibility."

November 27, 1991|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff YtB

Maryland's welfare grants to disabled adults, almost eliminated earlier this fall, would be reduced substantially under a proposal from the Department of Human Resources.

The new standards would eliminate thousands of those currently receiving assistance, although the department has not developed any hard numbers on the consequences of the new policy, billed as a move toward "client responsibility."

The change is one of three interlocking policy decisions announced yesterday by DHR Secretary Carolyn Colvin, who said the restructuring of the state's entitlement programs would allow the department to redirect $22.1 million to other services.

While the traditional welfare program, known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, will be broken into a two-tier system, many families theoretically could receive the same grant levels as they do now -- about $369 for a family of three. Families will have to prove they meet a "special needs" criteria, involving housing, medical care and education for school-age children.

But the General Public Assistance (GPA) program, paid for exclusively by the state, will become far more restrictive, eliminating many of the 24,486 people currently on the rolls.

"The details are mind-boggling," said Lynda Meade, a lobbyist for Associated Catholic Charities and a spokeswoman for the Maryland Alliance for the Poor. "The GPA rolls will definitely be cut."

GPA will be replaced in April 1992 with the Maryland Disability Assistance and Loan program, which will require greater accountability on the client's part, while providing fewer grants.

Under the current program, anyone who is temporarily disabled may receive food stamps and a monthly grant of up to $195, along with a state Medical Assistance card.

The average client is a 43-year-old male with limited job skills. More than one-third are disabled because of alcoholism or drug abuse and 75 percent live in Baltimore.

The new program would limit grants to those who have medical '' proof of their disabilities and will be disabled for at least 12 months. For the most part, payments will be limited to 12 months out of 36.

Anyone with a disability of shorter duration may apply for a loan from DHR.

To be eligible for a loan, the applicant must have worked in the three months before the disability and must be able to work again.

"We can't make a loan to someone if he won't be able to pay it back," DHR spokeswoman Helen Szablya said.

The GPA changes are predicted to save the state about $18.6 million during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 1992.

But these measures are not motivated by a desire to save money, Colvin said.

"It's the right thing to do, regardless of what's going on financially in the state," she said. "We cannot continue paying at the front end and the back end."

The new programs represent a philosophical shift that holds clients to a greater standard of accountability, Colvin said.

GPA participants will have to prove they are getting medical attention, for example. AFDC families will have to show that their school-age children are attending classes.

Under the AFDC changes, current grants will be cut by 30 percent. But a family with "special needs" -- defined as housing, medical problems, or keeping children in school -- may receive all or part of the amount cut for a limited time.

"AFDC is a temporary program. The families should not expect this will be a lifestyle," Colvin said.

"We sincerely believe it is a program that will help families and children, not hurt them. It is not punitive."

Welfare advocates were skeptical.

"I'm not aware of any significant showing that Maryland's programs were not working," said Dick Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. "What we have now is a safety net with considerably more holes than it had yesterday."

Colvin's announcement raised as many questions as it answered. How will special needs be calculated for AFDC families? How will alcoholics and drug addicts find help, given the recent cuts to state treatment programs?

Some of these details will be worked out over the next few months, Colvin said.

The change in GPA, along with the elimination of the state's emergency assistance program, is scheduled for April 1992. The AFDC changes will take longer, because federal approval is required.

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