Maryland Alliance for the Poor presents $90 million wish list

Legislators urged to boost cash aid, tax credits, assistance for elderly

January 14, 2000|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

With pretty much everyone in Annapolis talking about how to spend a $1 billion surplus, advocates for the needy urged legislators yesterday not to forget the working poor, the disabled and the elderly.

The Maryland Alliance for the Poor presented the House Appropriations Committee with a $90 million list of requests to expand services for low-income Marylanders, including the return of more money to the working poor at tax time, increasing cash assistance for the disabled and helping working parents continue their education.

The group said that despite a sharp decline in welfare rolls and the prosperity of recent years, many in Maryland need help raising their families.

"Too many Marylanders are poor or near-poor. Too many people are homeless. And too many people lack health insurance," said Cal Pierson, president of the Maryland Hospital Association. "Those still living at or near the poverty level remain vulnerable."

The alliance urged legislators to:

Pass the Working Parents Education Act, which would help parents taking community college courses with tuition, child care and other expenses. Cost: $9 million a year.

Double the state's cash assistance to about 15,000 single disabled adults in poverty who are not receiving federal disability payments, from $132 a month to $263. The state's payments are among the lowest in the nation. Cost: $17 million a year.

Pay for assisted-living services for the low-income elderly. Cost: $5 million a year.

The costliest request is to more than triple Maryland's earned income tax credit, which puts hundreds of dollars into the pocket of the average working poor Marylander each year. There are 200,000 working poor in the state. The increase, urged by Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan last summer, would be phased in over five years and eventually cost as much as $150 million a year.

The prospects for such a sharp increase appear dim, but members of the alliance are hoping that progress will be made on the tax credit and the rest of their wish list in a year when budget coffers are overflowing.

The Glendening administration is expected to include tens of millions of dollars in spending increases for the poor in his budget to be unveiled next week, and leading legislators said they will be mindful of Maryland's poor.

"In a time of plenty, I think we lose our souls if we don't address the needs of citizens in poverty, those who are disabled, and especially our senior citizens," Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said after yesterday's meeting.

Advocates for the poor say lawmakers have little excuse for giving the needy short shrift when they have a $1 billion surplus.

"If the state chooses not to seriously address the issue of entrenched poverty in Maryland this year," said David Conn of the Maryland Jewish Alliance, "then will it ever?"

In Annapolis

Today's highlights:

House of Delegates meets. 10 a.m. House chamber.

Senate meets. 11 a.m. Senate chamber.

House Environmental Matters Committee briefing on proposed expansion of children's health insurance program. 1 p.m. House office building, Room 160.

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