State's poor feel the pinch Maryland among those states making deep welfare cuts.

December 19, 1991|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Evening Sun Staff

WASHINGTON -- Maryland is cutting programs for the poor more deeply than are most states with budget problems, according to a new report.

Nationwide, states "cut programs for the poor" this year "more sharply than in any year since at least the early 1980s," says the report, prepared by two research organizations.

But seven states -- Maryland, Michigan, Massachusetts, California, Ohio, Illinois and Maine, as well as the District of Columbia -- "stand out for the depth and breadth of the cuts they instituted."

"These states simultaneously cut several basic programs for the poor and materially weakened the safety net," the report says, identifying Massachusetts and Michigan as the two states that cut programs the most.

A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources said he hadn't seen the report but defended the state's actions on welfare programs, terming them a "restructuring."

The report was released yesterday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-profit group which analyzes the impact of government policies on low and moderate-income people, and the Center for the Study of the States, an information clearinghouse on state finances and programs.

Most states, confronted with recessionary fiscal crises, have cut or frozen at least one major poverty program:

* Forty states froze or reduced benefits in the major welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

* Nearly 500,000 recipients of general assistance -- a smaller welfare program for adults -- are losing part or all of their cash assistance.

* Eleven states cut emergency cash or special needs payments, which are intended in part to prevent homelessness. Ten of the 26 states that provide funds for low-income housing reduced these programs.

* Of the states that raised taxes this year, most "did so in a regressive manner, taking a larger share of income from the poor than from those at higher income levels," the report says.

Maryland cut AFDC benefits by 7 percent, general assistance by 12 percent, and eliminated hospital services for general assistance recipients, the report notes.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is proposing more drastic changes: a cut of up to 30 percent in AFDC benefits, replacement of the general public assistance program with a system of loans and grants, and elimination of $250 emergency assistance grants.

A spokesman for the state human resources agency, Clarence Brown, said, "We consider what we're doing more restructuring" than cutting. "The whole objective is we want to help families."

Schaefer, in a televised speech Tuesday night, suggested there was a limit to the state's ability to make further cuts in some programs: "We can't turn our backs on welfare cases," the governor said.

The report says the states' cuts are "especially biting" because they're occurring during a recession, when jobs are hard to find. The report predicts an increase in homelessness.

Not all states balanced their budgets at the expense of poverty programs, the report says, noting that Pennsylvania made up a huge deficit "without cutting the major programs for the poor."

Pennsylvania, however, raised taxes by $3.2 billion. Maryland lawmakers are reluctant to increase taxes.

Restructuring

Here's how Maryland has treated the poor, according to the report:

* AFDC benefits cut 7 percent

* General assistance benefits cut 12 percent

* Hospital services ended for general assistance recipients

What lies ahead:

* AFDC cut up to 30 percent

* New assistance programs of loans, grants

* End of $250 emergency assistance grants.

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