Welfare now calls for work, Schaefer says

March 21, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Many Maryland welfare recipients will have to enter on-the-job training programs underwritten by their own grants or be required to do volunteer work, Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced yesterday.

"It's not wrong to ask a person who's receiving taxpayers' money to do community service," the governor said. "We just never asked them to do something. We're saying, 'If we help you, we expect you to help us.' "

The new programs are part of an effort to overhaul Maryland's welfare system, according to the governor and Carolyn W. Colvin, secretary of human resources. To oversee these changes, the governor will appoint a 21-member commission on welfare policy.

Last fall, the state announced its first reforms, including a policy to cut welfare checks up to 20 percent if clients do not demonstrate "responsibility" -- defined as sending their children to school and providing proof of regular health care.

Advocates for the poor, who disagree with the department's overall approach, suggested yesterday that the state hold off on changing its system until the commission was in place. But the governor said the plan must be implemented this year.

"We were charged, I felt, by the legislature and just about everyone else to do a restructuring of the welfare system," Mr. Schaefer said. "Whenever you try and change a structure, you rattle the foundations and there's immediate opposition."

The on-the-job training program actually came from House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., a Kent County Democrat. It's similar to Project Independence, Maryland's welfare-to-work program, but is tailored to those who can be trained on the job in nine months or less.

Under this "grant diversion" program, a recipient's check under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program would actually be paid to an employer. The employer would agree to hire the recipient, providing on-the-job training and supplementing the check so the total equals a minimum wage salary.

Meanwhile, day-care programs, medical assistance and food stamps would still be available to the client, although the food stamps would be reduced. The employer also would agree to hire the client at the end of the training period.

Unlike Project Independence, no one would be required to enter this job-training program. About 40,000 people are eligible for Project Independence, but the program can serve only 13,000 at any one time.

However, healthy clients with school-age children and who refuse to participate in either program would have to do volunteer work.

The volunteer program would begin on a pilot basis in only a few jurisdictions, Ms. Phelps said. Although there are no firm dates for either program, the department expects to have them in place no later than Oct. 1.

The job-training welfare reform program is to begin July 1, but clients' benefits are not expected to be affected until next year.

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