Righting a wrong in the welfare bill Legal immigrants: Glendening restores benefits to children and families here lawfully.

September 20, 1996

WITH GOV. PARRIS N. Glendening's decision to use state dollars to fund nutrition and other welfare benefits for children of legal immigrants, Maryland has put itself in the forefront of states that are refusing to live with one of the most controversial provisions of the welfare reform bill passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton.

For Maryland, doing the right thing was made easier by savings from lower caseloads that offset the projected $9 million annual cost. Even so, the decision affects only families with children, leaving many refugees and other adults adrift.

One result of denying benefits to legal immigrants is already being felt in the increase in the number who are now applying for citizenship. But there are many people for whom that is not possible, such as Yelizazeta Simontova, a 75-year-old woman living in Baltimore who sought refuge in the United States too late in her life to be able to learn English, a requirement for citizenship. With no living relatives, she depends on Supplemental Security Income benefits that will soon be cut off -- and which will not be restored under the governor's plan.

The treatment of legal immigrants, many of whom have worked and paid taxes in this country, has been cited by President Clinton and other reluctant supporters of the welfare bill as one of the provisions that most needs close attention and possible repeal. That's especially true since not every state will want to follow Maryland's lead or will have the resources to do so. And even Governor Glendening's plan leaves holes that allow worthy cases like Ms. Simontova's to fall through the net.

Some people argue that this country shouldn't have to support needy non-citizens. But Americans may not be as ready as some hard-liners in Congress thought to get tough on aging, infirm refugees with nowhere else to turn.

Even though it offers only a partial solution, Maryland's decision is a good one. It should help spur Congress to take a second look at this flaw in welfare reform.

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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