Welfare bill going down to the wire House rejects 2 tough provisions of reform package

Deadline late tomorrow

Several differences with Senate measure still to be resolved

April 07, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

The House of Delegates voted yesterday to scrap two of the toughest provisions in Gov. Parris N. Glendening's welfare reform bill, deciding not to cut off recipients after five years or force them into community service programs after two years.

The bill now moves to a conference committee, where differences between the Senate and House measures must be reconciled before the General Assembly ends its annual session at midnight tomorrow.

But both houses already agree on a number of provisions, including:

Providing cash assistance to a recipient only as a last resort. In the interim, families would get "welfare avoidance grants" to tide them over. In all cases, the idea would be to avoid situations in which long-term cash aid would be granted without review of the recipient's circumstances.

Enforcing new work requirements by applying a "full family sanction," cutting off all benefits in cases where a recipient does not report for required work or training. Under current law, only the offending adult's portion of the grant is cut in such cases.

Repealing a reform measure passed only last year. That bill called for pilot projects in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties -- pilots that had to be abandoned because they included child care and training guarantees that state officials now say they cannot afford. Earlier efforts at welfare reform in Maryland have acknowledged the need to spend money early in the process to achieve long-term gains.

Permitting aid to families with more than one parent in the home, lifting the general prohibition against assistance to families where a father or stepfather is present.

Giving more flexibility to local welfare directors so that they can tailor their efforts to individual circumstances, something not always possible under federal and state laws.

Imposing a five-year limit on benefits and requiring recipients to enter community service after two years only if the federal government orders states to do so, as many observers think it will eventually.

"Those limits are coming," said Lynda Fox, deputy director of Maryland's Department of Human Resources, who insisted that the bill pending in Annapolis still contains significant reforms.

Chief among these, she said, is the requirement that every applicant for welfare begin looking for work immediately.

Driven by political pressure to overhaul a discredited system, the General Assembly has found itself grappling uneasily with a major welfare reform proposal for the fourth year in a row. Once again, the final details are likely to go unresolved until the last moments of the 90-day session.

Ms. Fox said child care services would be provided under the bill passed yesterday from a pool of $84 million in state and federal funds -- to be supplemented by as much as $34 million in savings achieved by getting current recipients into jobs.

But in the House, legislators doubted that the administration had provided sufficient funds to make its proposal work.

"No state in the union has been able to get welfare reform on the cheap," said House Majority Leader John Adams Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat.

As they were passing the bill yesterday, delegates restored $8 million in cuts the governor proposed in aid to disabled children, reductions made to finance the proposed reforms.

"I think it's shameful," said Del. James W. Hubbard, a Prince George's County Democrat.

"We found $300 million to give to Art Modell and Jack Kent Cooke," he said, referring to the football stadiums the state will help to build in Baltimore and Prince George's County. "I cannot believe we would help millionaires and take away from the poor."

The Senate version of the bill retains that $8 million cut, one of several differences the two chambers must resolve tomorrow.

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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