Governor supports welfare reform

March 21, 1995|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

Gov. Parris N. Glendening joined state legislative leaders yesterday to support a pilot welfare reform program that they said would help move people from dependence to work and keep poor families together.

The program, which is pending before the General Assembly, would require some parents to find a job, perform community service or enroll in a job-placement program within three months of going on the welfare rolls.

To encourage families to stay together, the program also would allow households to continue to receive welfare payments even if the father worked more than 100 hours in one month. Current law strips households of Aid to Families With Dependant Children payments under those circumstances, in effect encouraging parents to separate for financial reasons.

"We are, in essence, contributing to the breakdown of the urban family and penalizing them for having a productive working dad in the house," the governor said during a press conference yesterday. "This, in my mind, is absolutely crazy."

Said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.: "This is a fundamentally flawed system. It must be fixed."

The program would serve about 3,000 households in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties. The governor and legislative leaders said they generally agreed on how the program would work, but still have to work out details. The most obvious disagreement is over the so-called family cap.

A family cap would deny additional welfare payments to women who have more children while on welfare. Governor Glendening said he opposes the provision, saying it would penalize children for their parents' mistakes.

Other key legislators, including House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, support the cap as a disincentive to pregnancy. "Should public policy reward irresponsible behavior?" Mr. Rawlings asked.

The governor and legislators are working on a possible compromise that would allow such children to receive public assistance, but not reward their mothers financially.

For instance, officials said the state may be able to use the electronic "credit cards" through which families receive welfare and food stamp benefits to restrict a certain amount for items such as diapers and baby formula.

Maryland legislators have been working on the pilot program for more than a year. Mr. Glendening -- who said little about welfare reform during the campaign or his first months in office -- has come out in support of the program with three weeks left in the legislative session.

Asked why he was moving forward on welfare reform now, Mr. Glendening said the issue had been a priority for sometime. "We have been working intensely since the first week of my administration on this," he said.

Officials said the program would provide child care as well as job training and placement. To help pay for that, the House bill to create the program earmarks about $3 million in the first year, said Carolyn Davis, one of the governor's deputy chiefs of staff. However, Ms. Davis emphasized that details of the plan could change, as well as the estimated cost.

Susan Leviton, founder of a nonprofit group called Advocate for Children and Youth, said she liked many aspects of the proposed program, particularly those that encouraged families to stay together. "I think the bill is definitely on the right track," she said. However, Ms. Leviton questioned whether three months is enough time for some welfare recipients to receive adequate job training and find work. "If you're talking about somebody with a third-grade reading level, what is three months going to do?"

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