A year after declaring that the state could no longer afford to make cash payments to poor, disabled adults, Gov. Parris N. Glendening reversed field yesterday and announced plans to reinstate a modified version of the program.
Beginning Jan. 1, the governor said, the state will start awarding $100-a-month grants to indigent adults who have certified medical disabilities. Those with drug or alcohol addictions will receive benefits through a third party or through a state-issued voucher.
The new program was announced on the eve of Mr. Glendening's appearance today at a statewide Hunger Summit at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
It also comes at a time when the governor has been under increasing criticism for helping millionaire sports team owners win lucrative stadium deals from the state while warning that welfare benefits may have to be slashed and government programs axed because of revenue shortfalls and federal cutbacks.
Although the governor's aides contended that the new "Transitional Emergency Medical and Housing Assistance Program" is substantially different from the Disability Assistance and Loan Program that Mr. Glendening was criticized for eliminating a year ago, there is a strong resemblance.
The old "DALP" program provided $157-a-month stipends to about 21,000 people with medically certified dis abilities for up to a year. It cost the state about $35 million annually.
The new "TEMHA" program will pay $100 a month to an estimated 15,300 people who have medically certified disabilities, also for up to a year. Officials said it will cost the state about $18 million annually, a $5 million increase over the $50 housing voucher program that was instituted in place of DALP this year.
Advocates for the poor -- some of whom held candlelight vigils outside the governor's University Park home to protest the DALP cuts -- uniformly offered two reactions to the governor's announcement: Praise for his decision to restore cash payments, but sadness that the amount was so small.
"We heartily congratulate the governor for restoring the cash payments. It was the right thing to do and it will be a better program for all of us," said Jeff Singer, a spokesman for the Baltimore group Health Care for the Homeless. "But I can't live on $100 a month. Could the governor? My clients can't live on $100 a month."
Ann T. Ciekot, a spokeswoman for Action for the Homeless, another Baltimore-based advocacy group, said that since DALP was eliminated, "there has been a record number of evictions, people are becoming homeless, people are getting sicker, and people are unable to really take care of their lives."
A hundred dollars will help, she said, but not much and not for all who need help. "We hope he realizes $100 is not enough money to prevent someone from becoming homeless," she said.
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, said the off-again, on-again program is the result of a state with less money to spend trying to decide what its priorities are.
"I think it is a good thing," he said. "This is a part of that safety net that I believe is absolutely necessary for an enlightened government."
Maryland Human Resources Secretary Alvin C. Collins said the revised program was the result of a series of summer and fall meetings with advocacy groups and described it as a vast improvement over the old DALP program.
"We really put in a major social services strategy that was not evident in the old program," he said. "The disability has to be diagnosed. That was sort of a requirement [in the DALP program], but it wasn't really enforced. We're going to insist that it be enforced. And, we're going to insist that the diagnosis be reviewed from time to time to ensure the beneficiaries are, in fact, disabled."
Those who receive benefits under the housing voucher program will be screened for drug addictions in January, state officials said.
Mr. Collins also promised "a major push" from his department to identify recipients of the new program who qualify for the federal Social Security Income (SSI) program and help process the paperwork to move them from the state to the federal rolls.
In a press release announcing the revised program, Mr. Glendening said it was necessary to offset the effect on the poor of expected federal budget cuts. He made no reference to the effect of his own decision to eliminate the DALP program earlier this year.
"The onslaught of the federal budget cuts is just another reason we feel a redesign is needed," he said. "With the unfair, punitive cuts of safety net protection programs going through Congress, we must protect the most vulnerable of our citizens. We will not permit our seniors, children or disabled to suffer."
Richard Dowling, a spokesman for the Maryland Catholic Conference, said: "Whether [the revised program] is a recognition of error or merely a response to public pressure, it needs to be commended.
"But, clearly, it doesn't go far enough in meeting the needs of the poorest of the poor."