NAACP endorses most of welfare plan

March 05, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

Decrying the welfare system as a form of "slavery" that can rob people of their incentive to succeed, the Maryland NAACP has endorsed in principle a Schaefer administration welfare-reform plan.

But the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, which is to release a letter to Gov. William Donald Schaefer today, stopped short of backing the most controversial element of the governor's plan: a "family cap" that would deny additional benefits to mothers who have babies while receiving public assistance.

The Rev. John Wright, state NAACP president, said yesterday that any effective reform must create real job opportunities for welfare recipients and lessen the stigma that families on public assistance often face. "The end result of all this must be self-sufficiency," Mr. Wright said. "If you keep paying me for nothing, and I become lazy and nonchalant, that's slavery. There are a lot of decent, hard-working people who would like to get off social services today if they had the opportunity."

Mr. Wright said that whatever reform plan emerges from the General Assembly session should ensure that "children must not suffer."

Carolyn W. Colvin, secretary of human resources and the prime advocate of the Schaefer administration's plan, said she hoped the NAACP "would endorse the whole package, but we are grateful for any support we can get."

The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus plans to support a rival proposal, sponsored by Baltimore Democrats Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr. and Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, which does not include the "family cap," said Del. John D. Jefferies, caucus chairman. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's endorsement comes amid a surge of interest in welfare reform.

"There clearly is momentum for some type of reform this session," said Grace Webb of the Legal Aid Bureau, a critic of the Schaefer plan.

On the federal level, a Clinton administration task force is studying ways to move people off the welfare rolls and into jobs.

The state NAACP, which includes branch presidents from across Maryland, adopted its welfare-reform position at a closed meeting this week. Participants said there was consensus that the Schaefer plan was an important step toward overhauling the welfare system. But NAACP officials expressed mixed feelings about the "family cap" proposal.

Leroy Warren, an NAACP national board member from Montgomery County, said the "family cap" was reasonable because "you just can't keep having kids and expect somebody else to take care of your kids."

"Welfare is basically a form of slavery. It's an addiction," Mr. Warren said. "You've got to break the cycle somewhere. Let's clean this place up -- get people in the mode of doing something positive instead of watching MTV." But Rodney Orange, president of the Baltimore NAACP, said he feared that the "family cap" might punish children without giving their mothers a realistic chance of escaping welfare.

State officials contend that the "family cap" would affect only a small minority of families on welfare. They say that only 4,000 of the 78,000 mothers receiving public assistance last year had additional children while on welfare.

Ms. Colvin said the "family cap," which is proposed as a three-year statewide pilot program, would tell welfare mothers: "Maryland will no longer pay for your bad choices."

"If a working-poor parent has a pregnancy, her employer doesn't give her a cash increase," she said. "Why should it be any different for an [Aid to Families with Dependent Children] recipient?"

While Ms. Colvin said the "family cap" would deter welfare mothers from having children, Ms. Webb of the Legal Aid Bureau said it was "absolutely ludicrous to think a mother would have an additional child for $80 a month in benefits."

Susan Leviton, president of Advocates for Children and Youth, said the governor's proposal "doesn't deal with the real problem -- how to get people working."

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