County's lawmakers back welfare reforms

March 06, 1994|By Deborah A. Leiderman | Deborah A. Leiderman,Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS -- In the hot debate over welfare reform, Howard County lawmakers are throwing their support behind the Schaefer administration.

In interviews, delegation members praised Gov. William Donald Schaefer's legislation for providing incentives to recipients to get off welfare and get a job.

"The general thrust of the governor's proposal is that it encourages good decisions and discourages bad decisions," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Republican from District 14B. "It discourages [welfare recipients] from having additional children they can't care for, . . . it takes away existing disincentives for people to get married or live together as a family . . . and it requires people on welfare to work."

Mr. Schaefer's proposed, 2,000-person pilot program targets Baltimore, Prince George's County and Anne Arundel County. Participants would:

* Be required to find full-time work in 18 months, or perform community service.

* Receive medical assistance and food stamps while working full time, a provision meant to encourage them to find a job even if it pays a low wage.

* Be required to participate in family planning and parenting courses if they are teen-age parents.

In addition, the governor proposes these statewide reforms:

* Pegging the amount of a family's cash grant to the number of children in the family when it joins the system. Food stamps and medical benefits would be provided for children born 10 months after enrollment.

* Requiring teen parents to reside with a parent or adult guardian in order to receive benefits.

The governor's bill and alternative welfare reform proposals have been heard in the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees. Work groups from the committees are struggling with compromise legislation to bring to the full committees.

Mr. Flanagan is the only member of the Howard County delegation who sits on one of the committees involved. He is not a work group member.

Proponents of welfare reform argue that the current system is more attractive than working full time at a low-paying job.

"The free ride is over," Mr. Flanagan said. "We're now going to establish a system that has consequences -- that's the way . . . real life works."

Del. Virginia M. Thomas, a Democrat from District 13A, said, "We have to make people more responsible for their behavior."

Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Republican from District 14, said, "The government should not have policies that encourage dependency on the system, [but needs to] explore the possibility of . . . providing a bridge for persons entering the work force."

Sen. Charles H. Smelser, a Democrat from District 4, said he had no position on the specific welfare reforms proposed this session. Mr. Smelser said he had been devoting his time to the capital budget.

Del. John S. Morgan, a Republican from District 13B, supports the governor's bill, with reservations.

"Some parts go too far," Mr. Morgan said. "The child limitation may not be the right thing right now."

And while he agreed with limiting the time someone can remain (( on welfare, he said, "You're not looking at the person as human."

The main alternative to the Schaefer plan is a proposal by Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Democrat from Baltimore. Those who pTC prefer it -- none from Howard County -- say it is more individualized and less punitive than the governor's bill.

Ms. Thomas said she thought "the biggest issue that's going to come up is the Medicaid funding of abortion. . . . That's the only issue they will not settle" in committee.

The issue may arise on the floor of both houses, however, in the form of amendments to the overall welfare reform bills.

Maryland allows Medicaid abortions if a woman's health is endangered by her pregnancy or if she is the victim of rape or incest. Some argue that restrictions should be lifted if cash welfare grants are frozen with family size.

Mr. Flanagan, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said the direct impact of welfare reform on Howard County would be minimal.

"We have residents on welfare," Mr. Flanagan said. But "being a wealthy county, we're not swamped with the kinds of problems other jurisdictions are." Even so, he added, "We are very much connected to the region that we live in. We have a stake in its health."

The House Appropriations Committee work group chairman, Del. Norman H. Conway, a District 38 Democrat, expects to bring a bill to full committee by March 10. The Finance Committee has not yet set a date for a vote.

Howard County delegation members pledged their support for welfare reform, but declined to say how they would vote.

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