Welfare panel urged to start over Critics say proposal avoids major issues


As the Oct. 31 deadline approaches for the state's welfare reform proposal to be submitted to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, some critics and welfare clients are urging commissioners to slow down and start over.

The Governor's Commission on Welfare Policy, charged with reinventing the state's welfare system, has settled on designing a system that merely reduces the rolls, critics say. But, they also say, the larger problems of poverty have not been addressed.

"These problems didn't appear overnight, and we're not going to end them with a few pieces of legislation during the next session," said Linda Eisenberg, the Maryland Food Committee's executive director and a spokeswoman for a statewide coalition that has drafted an alternative to the commission's reform plan.

On Oct. 5, after eight months of meetings, the commissioners released a tentative plan that included provisions for capping family size for welfare recipients and allowing Medicaid-funded abortions.

"Unlimited income maintenance, without the expectation of the return of some service to the community of citizens and taxpayers that provide it, will cease to exist," the proposal states.

The last day for public comment on the tentative plan prompted a news conference last week by those who want the commission to reject the draft.

Daryl C. Plevy, deputy secretary for the Department of Human Resources, said that the plan is still preliminary and that only parts of it may be addressed during the next legislative session.

So far, public responses range from alternative proposals by advocates, such as the newly formed Partnership for Working Communities, and comments from social workers and the occasional taxpayer.

"It's kind of a mixed bag," said Richard Larson of the Department of Human Resources, who is to summarize the comments and present them to the commission today.

The commission, headed by former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti, proposes to change the current welfare system by emphasizing jobs. Clients who do not, or cannot, find work, will be asked to perform community service. Child support will be pursued aggressively.

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