Maryland welfare cuts among deepest in U.S.

February 10, 1993|By Andrea Foster | Andrea Foster,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Maryland was among three states that enacted the most dramatic reductions in welfare programs during 1992, says a report released yesterday by two research groups.

Maryland, California and Illinois were cited mainly because of benefit cuts in two programs for the poor: Aid to Families with Dependent Children and general assistance.

Maryland also was singled out for raising costs for Medicaid recipients.

The report was compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington and the Center for the Study of the States, which is affiliated with the State University of New York at Albany.

The report urged states, in the future, to protect the poor from benefit reductions in their efforts to control spending.

"These cuts are especially biting because they come amid a weak economy -- precisely the time when a strong safety net is needed most," the report said.

AFDC serves poor families with children and is funded by federal and state governments. A record 220,000-plus women and children receive AFDC, about 4.9 percent of Maryland residents, according to the Maryland Department of Human Resources.

General assistance provides cash to low-income households that don't qualify for federally funded benefits.

While not all states participate in general assistance, Maryland, California and Illinois all have programs. In Maryland, general assistance mostly serves disabled single people, and benefits go to less than 1 percent of residents.

The report details cuts enacted for the fiscal year that ends June 30. Among the findings for Maryland:

* The maximum level for AFDC benefits was reduced 4.8 percent to $359 per month for a family of three. The value of the benefit, adjusted for inflation, dropped 16.5 percent since 1991, the greatest decline of any state.

* General assistance benefits were cut by almost 25 percent and those on the program lost all medical benefits, affecting 26,000 people.

* State-funded medical payments for general assistance recipients were eliminated.

* Medicaid recipients are required to make higher co-payments for dental services, optometry, physical and occupational therapy, and transportation to medical care.

* AFDC benefits were cut for families who failed to meet certain family health or school attendance requirements, affecting almost 10 percent of the 80,000 households on welfare.

The cuts tied to parental behavior were part of a welfare-reform plan intended to make clients more responsible.

But the disincentives -- losses of $25 per child per monthly benefit -- outstrip the possible rewards, $20 annually for each medical checkup. There is no cash incentive for attending school.

The Maryland Department of Human Resources defended the reductions, saying they were needed to help slash $1 billion from the state budget over the past two years. The report also fails to examine Maryland's record during fiscal years 1988 through 1991, when the state steadily increased AFDC benefit levels, said department spokeswoman Helen Szablya.

"If you look at the six-year history of the AFDC budget and you look at the six-year history of the state budget, you will see a real commitment to people by the governor, and not a punitive approach," she said.

But a Maryland advocacy group for the homeless said the welfare cuts are pushing some families out on the streets. The Baltimore-based Homeless Persons Representation Project Inc. has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the AFDC and general assistance cuts enacted during 1992.

The suit, filed jointly with the American Civil Liberties Union, is pending in the Maryland Court of Appeals.

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