Bill would limit welfare benefits for another child

February 24, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland's biggest welfare program supports dependent children. But a Baltimore County legislator thinks there should be limits on how many children the state should support.

Del. Richard Rynd, a Pikesville Democrat, is pushing a bill that would deny, or at least limit, additional benefits to women who have additional children after they're on welfare.

It would cut in half the extra payment mothers now receive under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program when they give birth to another child.

It would also eliminate entirely any additional benefit for children born after the first one.

The bill is similar to legislation recently enacted in New Jersey.

Mr. Rynd said he introduced the bill in an attempt to make welfare mothers realize there is a high cost associated with children and to make welfare recipients more responsible for their actions.

The measure (HB1336) would save the state an estimated $8.6 million the first year, $19 million the second, $30 million the third year and even larger sums after that, he said.

It drew the backing of House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, who sat at Mr. Rynd's side last week during a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee.

But the state Department of Human Resources and an array of welfare advocates uniformly opposed the measure, saying the reduced benefits would not deter women from having children and would only assure that they and their families would fall deeper into poverty.

"This will not change behavior," said Kevin Appleby, a spokesman for the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Most opponents also attempted to debunk what they called the "myth" that welfare mothers have more children just to increase their benefits.

Although benefits vary depending on family size, an additional child would increase an AFDC family's benefits by approximately $80 a month -- too little to encourage welfare mothers to have more children, opponents of the bill said.

The most common AFDC case involves a mother and child who receive $296 a month. A family of three receives $377; a family of four, $454.

Mr. Rynd offered statistics showing that the number of births to welfare mothers increased from 1989 to 1990 while the number of births in Maryland's overall population declined.

But welfare advocates noted that the AFDC population is made up almost entirely of women of child-bearing age and that the number of people on the AFDC rolls expanded over that same period by some 22,000 cases.

About 230,000 people are on AFDC, the state's largest welfare program.

Timothy W. Griffith, an official with the Department of Human Resources, said the state could not do what Mr. Rynd's bill proposes without a specific waiver from the federal government.

New Jersey's law still is awaiting such a waiver, as well as the outcome of a court challenge, Mr. Griffith said.

But legislators demanded to know what AFDC caseworkers were doing to discourage young welfare mothers from having additional children, and seemed angered when Mr. Griffith had difficulty answering the question.

"If you don't know about it, then your caseworkers don't know about it," suggested Del. Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore.

Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, D-Baltimore County, was more direct, saying that without direct family counseling, the state was doing little more than "cutting a check for them."

Mr. Rawlings suggested that Mr. Rynd's bill made little sense unless the state simultaneously made available to welfare mothers more family planning services.

That includes easier access to abortions or to modern birth control techniques such as Norplant, a five-year contraceptive device implanted in the skin.

But Mr. Appleby said AFDC recipients would be better off following the Catholic church teachings of "abstinence, marriage and commitment," noting that the church opposes both abortions and artificial means of birth control.

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