ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland has become the second state in the nation to receive federal permission to use welfare benefits to encourage more responsible behavior by recipients.
The federal government is allowing Maryland to reduce benefits to parents who fail to ensure that their pre-schoolers get health care or that their older children attend school regularly. Families who obtain additional health care will receive bonuses.
Wisconsin was the first state to receive a federal waiver to reduce welfare benefits, and other states are expected to follow suit.
Beginning in January, 75,000 Maryland families will be subject to a loss of benefits under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program if their children are truants or their toddlers don't receive health checkups.
"If the family is not in school and is not getting health care, that family is at risk," said Carolyn W. Colvin, Human Resources Department secretary. "If children drop out of school, they are doomed to a life of poverty."
Maryland will hire 62 caseworkers and counselors for the program, using $800,000 in money saved from other welfare revisions, said Helen Szablya, department spokeswoman.
In Maryland, the typical poor family of three will begin receiving a $401 monthly grant in January. The family's current grant is $377.
To keep the grant intact, parents must ensure that their pre-schoolers receive health checkups and that school-age children attend school at least 80 percent of the time. If they fail to do so, they could lose $25 each month per child.
Families could receive an additional $20 a year for each adult and school-age child who receives an annual medical check-up. A pregnant woman could receive an additional $14 a month above the base grant if she receives pre-natal care.
Women who are pregnant with their first child automatically will receive an extra $14 per month during the last three months of the pregnancy.
Advocacy groups for the poor and children have opposed the plan, saying it could unfairly penalize welfare recipients and their children.