Maryland has moved another small step toward the kind of welfare reform that discourages behavior detrimental to recipients and society as a whole. With the announcement that the federal government has agreed to waive certain provisions, the state can now impose sanctions against families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children under certain conditions. They include a failure to seek regular prenatal care or annual check ups for adults and children. Also, families with school-age children whose attendance slips below 80 percent without good cause can be penalized.
It may seem patronizing to tie welfare benefits to mandatory compliance with a set of rules. To do nothing, however, would be to stick with a system of high infant-mortality rates, mounting medical costs and undereducated children.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer deserves credit for this hard-fought-for federal waiver. After months of going through regular channels, Mr. Schaefer made a personal appeal to Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan and President Bush.
Also important to note is that there will be a six-month period before the sanctions are imposed to ensure that recipients understand the program and receive whatever support services are needed to see that they meet the requirements.
Still, Maryland's welfare reform efforts have miles to go. A proposal to penalize welfare mothers who refuse community service work was scuttled earlier this year because the state legislature refused to fund the program.
This effort would not have targeted women with children too young to be in school, or those caring for an elderly relative. But it would have been a strong impetus to women who were able and in need of the discipline of regular work.
Without the necessary funding, however, the program has become strictly voluntary and will fail to attract the sort of numbers a mandatory program would.
In addition, a proposal to penalize recipients who failed to pay their rent in a timely fashion was briefly floated, then dropped in the face of opposition from both legislators and welfare rights activists.
What all this shows -- both the programs that survived and the proposals that didn't -- is how difficult it is to impose a cohesive welfare reform program at the state level. National reform is long overdue.