Clergy urge halt to welfare reform plan Glendening tells clerics he won't suspend effort

December 13, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

In a closed-door meeting with religious leaders yesterday, Gov. Parris N. Glendening refused to suspend Maryland's welfare reform plan, prompting clerics to call for churches and other non-profit organizations not to aid the effort.

"We must go out and organize other churches to prod the governor and the state legislature to stand up to the government of America and say we will not be party to this welfare reform effort," said the Rev. Douglas Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church in East Baltimore and co-chairman of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a church-based community group.

State officials said suspending the welfare reform plan would cost the state $229 million -- Maryland's entire federal public assistance allocation for the year.

"The governor recognizes that this is not a perfect system, and he will continue to push for change, but he wants to do this in the spirit of cooperation" with religious leaders, said Raymond C. Feldmann, the governor's assistant press secretary.

The religious leaders wanted the governor to halt welfare reform until legislators or others could study ways to revise it.

The protest stems from the federal overhaul of welfare that jettisoned the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program in favor of block grants to states.

The 60 religious leaders, including Baltimore Archdiocese representatives, say they're not opposed to welfare reform but rather to this plan.

Religious leaders also are opposed to a provision of the welfare law that permits churches and other nonprofit organizations to administer cash benefits to the children of parents who have been stripped of their public assistance payments for violating state rules. Under federal guidelines, women recipients could lose benefits for such matters as refusing to tell who fathered their children.

Under federal guidelines, Maryland will lose $11.5 million if 21,000 current welfare recipients -- 17,000 in Baltimore -- are not in jobs by Oct. 1. The state is to reduce current welfare rolls by 25 percent each year.

"There are not 17,000 jobs out there. The only way for the state to do this is to put welfare recipients in jobs now held by the working poor," said Kathleen O'Toole, a BUILD organizer. "It's welfare reform by trading places."

State officials said welfare recipients will not replace current workers. "You cannot displace workers or any temporarily laid off bTC staff. That's against federal law, and there are grievance procedures if that happens," said Beth Boyd, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Resources.

O'Toole said loopholes in the law would permit employers to replace workers with welfare recipients.

Employers who hire welfare recipients permanently after a period of on-the-job training will receive federal income tax credits.

The religious coalition wants the state to take its $229 million block grant and provide "living wage" jobs, paying what a worker needs to support a family at a minimal level.

On Wednesday, the city reaffirmed a two-year old law that requires contractors doing business with the city to pay workers more than the minimum wage, approving a 50-cent increase to $7.10 per hour, effective July 1.

Already, some welfare recipients in Maryland's workfare program, Project Independence, are being paid $1.50 an hour by the state to work beside people making more than $6 an hour in government jobs or with agencies that contract with the government for such jobs as cleaning public buildings.

Such workers continue to receive welfare benefits, and their "salary" is to provide for such incidentals as transportation, state officials say.

The religious coalition that met with Glendening represents more than 250 congregations in Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

Others participating included some members of the Solidarity Sponsoring Committee, which organized workers to push for the living wage bill.

"We hope the legislature will be forced to revisit the legislation and hopefully come up with something more workable," said Martha Young, executive director of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, which represents mainline churches.

Kent Weaver, an expert on welfare and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said, "It would be helpful if [religious leaders] did participate but it will go ahead as planned. Congress is very firmly committed to it, and they're not going to backtrack on the overall scope of welfare reform, but there may be modest fixes."

Pub Date: 12/13/96

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