Students protest welfare rule that requires work for benefits

December 09, 1997|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

About 100 people came out to Baltimore City Community College last night to protest welfare reforms they say are forcing students to drop out of college.

The rally in the school's Fine Arts auditorium on the Liberty campus was organized to muster opposition to an initiative that requires college students on welfare to work 20 hours a week to continue receiving benefits.

Latonya Williams, 20, a nursing student and a mother of two who receives welfare, said she would have to quit school if forced to work 20 hours a week. Being a full-time single mother and a full-time student is enough of a burden, she said. "Is it me, or does this new law send the most mixed-up and contradictory message I've every heard in my life?" Williams said to a cheering crowd.

The city Department of Social Services has agreed to allow BCCC students to continue receiving benefits without meeting the 20-hour work requirement, said Jean Wilson Richie, campus coordinator for welfare reform at the college. But she acknowledged that many students are under the impression that they may be cut from the welfare rolls.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there," Richie said.

The rally was sponsored by the Solidarity Sponsoring Committee, an arm of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Committee organizers say BCCC students also are receiving letters from welfare caseworkers threatening them with having their benefits terminated if they do not find work. The city social services agency has been given a mandate to have 28,000 welfare recipients placed in some kind of job by October, said Alisa Glassman, a committee spokeswoman.

"It was the students themselves who set up this rally out of fear of losing their benefits," she said.

Students from the Johns Hopkins University, Coppin State College and the University of Maryland, Baltimore also attended.

Harry Bosk, spokesman for the state Department of Human Resources, said students may meet the 20-hour work requirement by participating in on-the-job training, receiving vocational training or performing community service.

Bosk said that traditional college-level courses do not qualify as vocational training.

Students pledged last night to lobby the General Assembly next year for reforms.

They said they would organize a bus trip to Annapolis in February to lobby lawmakers.

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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