Glendening administration to put state on fast track for federal welfare reform By complying with rules early, Md. would receive millions in block grants

September 18, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The Glendening administration said yesterday that it plans to put Maryland on the fast track to welfare reform by conforming with sweeping new federal rules nine months earlier than required.

Alvin Collins, Maryland's secretary of human resources, told the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Welfare Reform that the state would move aggressively to submit a plan of action to the federal government by Oct. 1.

The state could have waited until July.

Officials said they were swayed by the extra $10.8 million in block grants Maryland would receive by not exercising its option to wait.

They said the state would gain $890,000 for each additional month that it operates under the welfare reform law signed by President Clinton this summer.

One important effect of the decision is that it will start the clock early on the federal law's two-year limit on how long a recipient can receive benefits before finding work and its lifetime limit of five years on welfare.

"To the typical client, it's invisible. It simply changes the way the program is financed," said Lynda Fox, deputy secretary of human resources.

She said the rules Maryland will propose in the plan it submits to the government will be substantially the same as the revamped welfare program the state would have begun to implement Oct. 1 under legislation passed by the assembly this year.

Several advocates for the poor opposed the move, saying Maryland should take more time to craft a plan to shoulder the burdens Congress is shifting to the state.

But Fox noted that the state will be able to amend its plan whenever it chooses -- an argument that appeared to sway many committee members.

The hearing began on a note of recrimination.

Legislators of both parties complained that Gov. Parris N. Glendening hadn't informed legislative leaders before announcing Monday that the state plans to pick up the tab to continue certain benefits for legal immigrants who would be cut off under the new federal law.

"It just boggles my mind," fumed Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Democrat from Baltimore County.

Collins apologized, saying he took full responsibility for the "breach of protocol."

But Anne Arundel Republican John A. Cade, the Senate minority leader, replied that he suspected the governor's office actually was responsible.

However, legislators expressed little disagreement over the substance of Glendening's announcement.

But some witnesses complained that the governor hadn't gone far enough, noting that his initiative would not restore federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments or food stamps for adults -- both of which Congress cut off for legal immigrants.

Lauren B. Kallins, government relations director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, related the story of Yelizazeta Simontova, a 75-year-old Baltimore woman who came to the United States as a refugee seven years ago.

Kallins said the widow, who has no living relatives in the United States, met with the governor Monday to tell him that her SSI benefits will be cut off under the federal law because she is not a citizen.

Simontova, whose benefits would not be restored under Glendening's plan, cannot become a citizen because she is too old and infirm to learn English, Kallins said.

"We're stuck with what's happened in D.C.," said Sen. Martin G. Madden, the Republican co-chairman of the joint committee.

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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