Cuts in energy assistance could chill Marylanders


WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's budget for next year calls for cuts in energy assistance that could chill some 25,000 Maryland families next winter, according to state officials, who said the budget also trims funds for child care and the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

The energy assistance plan, which helps poor families pay their heating bills, would be reduced from $1.6 billion to $1 billion under the Bush plan, while a new national program for child care would be cut from a promised $825 million to about $731 million.

Maryland social services officials had hoped for full child-care funding to assist some of the estimated 3,000 parents on a waiting list, while the fuel assistance decrease would cut out almost a third of the 80,000 families expected to receive help this winter, state officials said.

At the same time, the bay cleanup program would see a 15 percent cut, from $14.8 million last year to $12.7 million proposed for the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

But there also is encouraging news for Maryland in the $1.45 trillion budget submitted yesterday.

President Bush has proposed increasing, from $8 million to $41 million, funding for a national program for lead poisoning prevention, which could benefit Baltimore, a city with a stubborn lead paint problem. Federal grants would assist states in identifying low- and moderate-income children with high levels of lead poisoning and help property owners remove lead paint.

And the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt would

benefit from the increase in money for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

NB The center would see a 76 percent jump in funding -- from $191

million to $336 million -- for its Earth Observing System, a program that includes a series of space-based instruments and platforms to study the Earth.

The Bush administration's most ambitious program -- to turn over to the states about $15 billion in federally funded programs -- was greeted happily.

The programs, ranging from education grants to law enforcement assistance, would be chosen by state officials and Congress.

"I think it's not a bad idea," said Gov. William Donald Schaefer, here for the winter meeting of the National Governors' Association. But the governor said he would like to see the programs fully funded and a federal commitment "of maybe five to six years."

Mr. Schaefer and other chief state executives are wary that the Bush administration may shift such programs to the states and then cut funding, leaving the governors "to stop the programs."

"I happen to like [the block grant proposal]," said Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, although he predicted it might have trouble passing congressional committees.

Mr. Schaefer also was concerned about the proposal from Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner that would increase the state's share of obligation for highway construction from 10 percent to 25 percent. State officials, however, were encouraged that President Bush has proposed a 6 percent increase in the Special Supplemental Food Program for women, infants and children. The increase in WIC, an anti-poverty program that also provides health care, would mean Maryland's share would rise by $1.5 million to $28 million next year. Still, the increase would barely cover inflation and would not increase the number of people served, said state officials.

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