Schaefer's focus on prevention

January 15, 1993

Gov. William Donald Schaefer's pep-talk to the General Assembly yesterday was right on the mark: Maryland wastes millions in taxpayer dollars to either punish or come to the rescue of impoverished individuals instead of putting this money into programs that could prevent such activities. The cost of simply maintaining the current cycle of dependency is staggering.

As the governor pointed out in his State of the State address, the welfare system is out of control. Too many kids wind up as school dropouts, drug addicts, delinquents and prison inmates, only to return to society to father children who begin the dependency cycle all over again.

The price tag he mentioned ought to give us pause for thought. To keep one child on welfare costs the state $1,200 a year and Washington $3,300 a year. If that child gets in trouble as a juvenile, the taxpayers' cost is anywhere from $15,000 to $70,000 annually. If that youth goes on to a life of crime that puts him in prison, the state shells out $20,000 a year for his upkeep. And if that person is released from prison and fathers two children who end up on welfare, the state's bill is another $3,500 a year.

There's got to be a better way -- and there is. Prevention. Just as the governor stated, prevention must become a driving force for the 1993 General Assembly. Programs to prevent welfare dependency, programs that strive to prevent school dropouts and drug use, programs that prevent tobacco smoking, programs that prevent the illegal spread of guns, programs that will prevent unwanted pregnancies and help stem the spread of AIDS.

Mr. Schaefer challenged legislators to become partners in prevention programs: Health screening for seniors; National Guardsmen as mentors for at-risk kids; stepped-up efforts to collect child-support payments; programs that force parents to take responsibility for their children.

Preventing businesses from fleeing Maryland is another aspect. Job-retention and rebuilding this state's manufacturing base are crucial tasks. Adopting the California auto-emissions rules will make it possible to meet federal air standards without penalizing industries so harshly they leave the state. And supporting a bigger Baltimore Convention Center will stem a loss of state tax revenue and stimulate economic development.

Mr. Schaefer has given lawmakers a worthy agenda. They should follow his lead. The key word for this session should be prevention.

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