Governor proposes funds restoring aid to disabled adults

Assembly approval needed for supplement to the 2005 budget

General Assembly

March 24, 2004|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

A suspended state program that provides temporary cash assistance to disabled adults could be restored if lawmakers approve a $13 million supplement the governor proposed yesterday for the 2005 budget.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. earmarked $2.95 million of the supplemental budget to be distributed in small monthly payments through the Transitional Emergency Medical and Housing Assistance Program through July. The program - which gives $185 stipends to single, unemployable, disabled Marylanders who are ineligible for any other cash assistance programs - has been forced to turn away about 1,000 new applicants since January.

Maryland Department of Human Resources Secretary Christopher J. McCabe called the stopgap measure "good news."

"The money, $185 a month, may sound modest, but it offers major assistance for those who need it," McCabe said at a news conference at Lawyers Mall outside the State House.

If approved by the General Assembly, the supplemental budget money and a matching $2.9 million discovered in the department's coffers would allow the renamed Temporary Disability Assistance Program to take on additional people starting next week.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who has called the midwinter suspension of the cash assistance program "cruel and shortsighted," expressed relief yesterday that the state's neediest would again find temporary aid.

"I'm glad that [the governor is] restoring those funds to poor people who are homeless and need temporary aid and temporary health care. It should never have been cut in the first place," he said.

Since the early 1990s, the state has repeatedly renamed and redefined programs aimed at disabled residents waiting to qualify for federal Social Security Income disability payments, beginning when the state eliminated General Public Assistance in 1992. The Disability Assistance Loan Program was created to fill the void until it was cut from the budget, only to be restored, in 1995. The program continued until January, when officials, pointing to budget constraints, announced a six-month freeze on the approval of new applications.

Currently, the program helps about 12,200 medically disabled adults whose condition prevents them from working for at least three months.

Because the program's $25 million 2004 budget would remain the same in 2005, McCabe said some benefits will have to be curtailed to help keep the program alive, such as limiting cash payments to nine months.

Ehrlich's supplemental budget proposal also includes $164,000 earmarked to conduct background investigations on prospective guardians for children in need of assistance.

It also would double the state's contribution to a low-interest loan program for Tropical Storm Isabel victims passed by the General Assembly. The Isabel bill took advantage of $3 million in state reserve funds, plus $1.5 million in federal funds, but Ehrlich's supplemental budget would add $3 million, said Shawn S. Karimian, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

For information on the program, Isabel victims can call 1-866-227-2497 or visit the department's Website at www.dhcd.state.md.us.

Sun staff writers Andrew A. Green and Tom Pelton contributed to this article.

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