Judge permits freeze on assistance for poor

Court denies a request to force the state to fund cash-payment program

February 07, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

A judge allowed the state yesterday to continue its freeze on cash assistance for poor and disabled people, ruling against a request for a restraining order made by advocates for the homeless.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Kaye A. Allison's decision means that a class action lawsuit filed Jan. 23 on behalf of a homeless man, Gustav Ketchersid, against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will continue, but have no immediate impact on the cuts.

"With the money, I could have rented a room to put a roof over my head. But without it, I've been sleeping in a homeless shelter," said Ketchersid, 46, an unemployed and transient Baltimore County resident.

On Jan. 12, Secretary of Human Resources Christopher J. McCabe instituted a six-month freeze on new approvals for people applying for $185 monthly payments as part of the Transitional Emergency Medical and Housing Assistance program.

McCabe's office said the cut was necessary because more people than expected had applied, and the program would have run up a $5 million deficit by July 1.

An expected 10,000 new applicants will be turned away, but those already enrolled in the program will continue to receive the monthly payments.

Allison said she does not have the power to force the state to devote more money to the program. "The suspension is consistent with the department's responsibility ... to not spend in excess of its appropriations," she said.

Kevin Lindamood, spokesman for Health Care for the Homeless, said he found it ironic that the state recently appropriated more money to help pay for the burial of indigents but won't approve more cash assistance to prevent them from freezing to death.

"It's a good thing they are increasing the amount of money for burial assistance, because they are going to need it with the cold weather we are having," Lindamood said.

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