Final budget needs provisions for poor As the close of...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

April 01, 2000

Final budget needs provisions for poor

As the close of the legislative session draws near, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Maryland legislators are finalizing spending plans.

Education and transportation are once again the priority areas that will benefit most from the state's billion-dollar surplus and continued revenue growth.

Initiatives to help Maryland's poor were largely missing from the governor's proposed budget.

Yet recognizing the opportunity to reverse cuts made in less prosperous times and meet some long-ignored needs, legislators and advocates made several proposals.

Unfortunately, nearly all have been met with opposition from state government officials.

For example, Del. Mark Shriver and his colleagues proposed three welfare-related bills.

One would require the state to pass on the child support it collects for Maryland's poorest families. Presently, none of it reaches the child's family. The state keeps it all, and shares a portion with the federal government.

Another proposal would make welfare eligibility effective from the time clients apply.

At present, applicants are denied benefits for the first two weeks after they apply. The result is that the maximum first month benefit for a family of three with no other income is $222, which is certainly not enough to care adequately for two children.

A third proposal would prohibit the state from counting housing assistance as income when calculating welfare benefits.

By almost any measure, these are modest proposals. Yet in each case state officials have opposed the bills, primarily on the grounds that they cost too much -- never mind the state's billion-dollar surplus or that spending on cash assistance has fallen from $296 million in 1996 to a projected $104 million in the next fiscal year.

In other words, in this time of plenty, poor folk still do not appear on the list of priorities.

Other proposals to help low-income families face an uncertain fate. The most significant idea, touted by Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan and Ways and Means committee chair Del. Sheila Hixson, would expand the state's earned income credit, which provides tax rebates to low-income, working families.

A similar federal credit is the nation's most effective anti-poverty tool aimed at children and an important way to assist low-wage workers.

Once again, however, state agencies have opposed this proposal to help working families, because the third-richest state in the country can't afford it.

Time is running out in Annapolis.

Yes, there is a need to increase spending on education and transportation. But improving the safety net for Maryland's poor needs to be a priority as well.

Steve Bartolomei-Hill, Baltimore

The writer is director of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute.

Cuba comments off the mark

I disagree with some of Irma Weinstein's comments on her visit to Cuba ("Cuban people are eager to join the world economy," letters, March 15).

I was born in Cuba and came to the United States in 1960 as a young child. But I know and remember enough to know that some of her comments are way off the mark.

Havana was once one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with Spanish Colonial buildings that were its pride and joy.

Now they are just old, decaying buildings, held up with wooden planks. I choke back tears whenever I see pictures or television footage of Cuba.

Fidel Castro "liberated" Cubans from a dictatorship, but he brought them an even worse evil.

Under Fulgencio Batista's dictatorship, if you didn't bother him, he didn't bother you. There was enough food for all and standing in line for many hours to buy food or medicine (if the store doesn't run out before you get to the front of the line) was unheard of.

Cubans could travel to a foreign country in something other than a makeshift raft made of old tires.

Cuba's economy was one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean. There was poverty, as in any other country, but most people were not illiterate and poverty-stricken with no access to medical care.

I want the U.S. embargo lifted and Mr. Castro out of Cuba.

I don't want to go back to live there, but I want to be able to return to my country of birth to visit as many times as I please, without sanctions from the United States.

But I certainly wouldn't travel there now and give Mr. Castro much-needed U.S. dollars.

I hope to live long enough to see Cuba a free country once again and to help Cuba get back on its feet.

Maria Alvarez, Ellicott City

Bay pilots' battle for control

I read with interest The Sun's article on the Port of Baltimore's docking masters seeking to join the Association of Maryland Pilots ("Bay pilots press effort to boost power in port," March 20).

Is this another ploy by the bay pilots to control movement of all vessels on the bay and the harbor?

I hope the legislature remembers that in 1984 it granted the bay pilots' request to move rate-making authority from the Board of Pilot Examiners to the Public Service Commission.

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