ANNAPOLIS -- The first phase of Maryland's welfare reform effort begins at the end of this month when the state kills off a program that once helped more than 17,000 Maryland families a year with small grants to tide them over in emergencies.
State-funded Emergency Assistance, a $3.2 million program that made small amounts available for those facing eviction or other sudden problems, ends April 1. The remainder of its budget, $800,000, will revert to the general Department of Human Resources budget.
The cut has gone largely unnoticed because it was always linked to the department's sweeping proposals to reform its big-ticket programs, Aid to Families with Dependent Children and General Public Assistance.
Advocates for the poor still have time to address suggested reforms, which go into effect this fall and are intended to make clients more "responsible."
Emergency Assistance, however, is virtually dead, because it is not included in Gov. William Donald Schaefer's 1993 budget proposal. And, while a Senate committee has managed to salvage funds for some similar grants next year, no one can restore the funds for the last third of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
"The chances are slim [of saving it]; there would have to be a supplemental budget," says J. Peter Sabonis of the Homeless Persons Representation Project. "We run up against the state of Maryland's archaic budget system."
Legislators may cut the governor's budget but can't add items unless they provide funding mechanisms. The governor often issues supplemental budgets, but in this case he backs DHR's reform movement, which counts on using the savings from Emergency Assistance to administer other, non-specified programs.
However, Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and the other members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee are trying to save a portion of the program. This week, the committee cut $500,000 from General Public Assistance, stipulating that the money could be reinstated only if it were used to pay for burials, which were a significant part of the emergency assistance program.
"We ought to try to keep the other things they do as well," says Ms. Hoffman, D-Baltimore. "As for burial assistance, what do you if that money isn't there? As it is, communities pass the hat, and funeral directors donate services."
In more than 75 percent of its cases, Emergency Assistance provides grants of $100 to $200 to help families avoid eviction or foreclosure. The funds also can be used to buy needed appliances and fuel, or to assist those who have suffered losses in disasters or thefts.
Timothy W. Griffith, executive director of the Income Maintenance Administration, says the state still will have a similar program for families with children. That $5 million program is underwritten equally by the state and the federal governments.
But more than 75 percent of the people who received state-funded Emergency Assistance in the eight months to Jan. 31 would not qualify for this program.
The federal-state program is not sufficient, Ms. Hoffman says.
"In Washington County, they served 200 people with [a budget of] less than $40,000," she says. "A lot of these people are people who have been productive all their lives. What are we going to do for them?"