Take It To The People

June 30, 1995

After nearly eight years in office Baltimoreans are used to the reserved approach Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke takes when he's in a fight. Not one to rant and rave, Mr. Schmoke prefers quiet diplomacy. Occasionally he's feisty, as in the nasty and unnecessary public feud to gain control of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association board. But too often he's meek when the city needs him to shout. Such was the case with DALP.

The Disability Assistance and Loan Program has fallen victim to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's theories on welfare. He believes the state would be better off providing specific services for the poor, rather than giving them cash to make ends meet until they qualify for other aid programs.

DALP gives 22,000 adults, most of them Baltimore residents, a monthly stipend of $157. That costs Maryland some $34 million a year. About half the recipients also receive free medical care through DALP, at an annual cost of $13.5 million. The rest receive medical care through Medicaid. Ending DALP could mean more homeless panhandlers, more hungry people outside soup kitchens and more non-paying patients at hospital emergency rooms.

Mayor Schmoke was blasted when he released a June 13 letter he wrote to Mr. Glendening asking him to reconsider his DALP decision. Critics accused Mr. Schmoke of doing too little, too late. As it turns out, though, the mayor has been asking Mr. Glendening not to end DALP since before the governor was inaugurated. It's just that few people knew it. Sticking with his quiet style, Mr. Schmoke wrote letters on Jan. 17 and Feb. 7 asking Mr. Glendening to save DALP. He followed up the letters with conversations and meetings.

It was all to no avail. DALP dies tonight. Mr. Glendening's budget does include $11.5 million in housing vouchers for disabled adults and $6.9 million for a reduced health care program. But 5,000 of Baltimore's DALP recipients won't get any of that aid and the other 11,000 will only get a housing voucher of $50 a month or rental assistance of $125 a month. It's not enough.

The people of this city depend on the mayor to play many roles, one of the most important being its champion in the arenas that determine state and federal funding. Not that the mayor is expected to fight alone. He has to have the people behind him and at his side. But the people can't join the battle if they don't know it's going on. Mr. Schmoke should have screamed to high heaven about the attack on DALP. He might have saved it by taking this fight to the people.

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