Bentley would toughen welfare requirements CAMPAIGN 1994 -- THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

September 08, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

Republican gubernatorial candidate Helen Delich Bentley said yesterday that she would cut off welfare benefits to recipients convicted of a felony or any crime involving illicit drugs.

Unveiling a welfare reform plan six days before the primary election, Mrs. Bentley also would deny increased benefits to mothers who have additional children while on the welfare rolls and would require recipients to go to work after receiving cash benefits for two years.

Both those elements are similar to proposals pushed by Democratic Gov. William Donald Schaefer, to whom Mrs. Bentley gave credit, and previously espoused by her closest GOP rival, state Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

But Mrs. Bentley's call for cutting off benefits to felons and drug offenders appears to have added a wrinkle to the welfare debate.

Mrs. Bentley said she would cut off benefits to felons placed on pro- bation and not incarcerated and to those convicted of misdemeanor drug offenses even though the result would be a smaller check to the family and might well cause problems for the children.

"I'm just so hard-nosed on drugs," she said. Stiff penalties will discourage drug use if parents know that "their families will suffer some and they will suffer," she added.

The proposal also emphasizes an expansion of state job training programs and efforts to encourage private businesses to establish not-for-profit corporations specializing in such programs.

The current welfare system "institutionalizes poverty and penalizes the bedrock, and distinctly American, work-ethic principle," she said at a news conference outside the State House in Annapolis.

Terming Mrs. Bentley a late-comer to the welfare issue, Mrs. Sauerbrey said, "To the extent that Helen is talking about issues at all, she is picking up things other people have been talking about for a long, long time and presenting them as if they were something innovative."

Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, who stands first in the polls among Democratic hopefuls, has not emphasized welfare reform, but he has said that he opposes a cap on family size and a benefits cutoff, according to his spokesman, David Seldin.

The state, at Governor Schaefer's behest, is currently seeking a waiver from the federal government that would allow the administration to impose a limit on family size and terminate benefits after 18 months.

The General Assembly in April approved a heavily watered-down version of an administration measure, but not before stripping it of the family cap. The governor vetoed the bill in late May, but has continued to press for the federal waiver.

The legislative battle erupted when the family cap became entwined with a move to lift restrictions on Medicaid-funded abortions, which the state will pay for only in cases of rape, incest or when the long-term physical or mental health of the mother is endangered.

Mrs. Bentley reasserted her opposition to Medicaid funding of abortions but hinted yesterday that she might have a change of heart if the ban stood in the way of welfare reform.

"Not at this point I don't," she said when asked if she might be relent on the issue. Asked to explain, she said, "I said, not at this point, OK?"

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