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Glendening's numbers on disability program don't add up


Before Friday, when he offered more bucks for housing and medical vouchers to soften the blow of his decision to kill the state's cash grants to poor and disabled Marylanders, the governor had gone on the offensive. He had been throwing darts at the Disability Assistance and Loan Program, claiming that more than half of DALP's clients are drug addicts or alcoholics, and that the state collects little of the money it loans through the program.

I think he's stretched some numbers to bolster a bad decision.

My source for retort is a report that went to the General Assembly earlier this year from the Department of Fiscal Services and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"Little data on the characteristics of DALP recipients is available," it declares. However, it notes a 1993 survey of 16 health care providers that found substance abuse as the primary diagnosis in 19 percent of urban DALP recipients, the largest body of the program's clients. Substance abuse also was the primary diagnosis in 8 percent of suburban and 9 percent of rural clients. "Most (DALP clients) have multiple diagnoses," the report says, including: HIV/AIDS, mental illness, cardiovascular disease and muscular-skeletal disabilities. The last two seem to be the most prevalent diagnoses.

And consider this: In January, the state reviewed the medical histories of a sample of 300 patients served through DALP and "found that only 7 percent are disabled solely due to substance abuse. However, another 43 percent of the sample suffered from substance abuse and other impairments."

So, the governor's slam on DALP recipients might be politically expedient, but it might also be exaggeration.

As for payback on loans, the governor is correct: In 1994, the state only collected a small fraction of the $15 million it lent to people who were disabled for less than a year. But again, that's only part of the picture. Sixty-three percent of the program's clients are classified as long-term disabled, and anywhere from 65 to 90 percent of those people eventually receive federal disability benefits. When that happens, the state is reimbursed by Washington for the cash it granted DALP clients during the many months their applications for federal benefits were pending. This makes DALP a "bridge" program for thousands of poor, disabled adults. It's what the welfare reformers call a "safety net."

At a demonstration outside WJHU-FM last week, supporters of the disabled tried to crown the governor Maryland's "Reptile of the Year" -- for "the most coldblooded budget cut" -- as he made his way to Marc Steiner's radio show. Police, however, kept them from presenting a rubber alligator symbolic of the title. No great loss there. This governor is not into symbolism. He's into numbers and policy. He ought to take another look at the numbers. And he ought to spend some time in a clinic or homeless shelter before he makes a final decision on the DALP grants.

Miles apart

Having presented myself to a lot of elementary school classes, I can appreciate Bob Ehrlich's struggle to relate to fourth-graders in Kingsville recently. At a Maryland Day assembly, the freshman congressman tried to connect to kids by talking TV. He mentioned -- probably too many times -- that he had been on television a lot, starting with his yuppie-family man, clearly-better-than-Brewster's campaign commercials last fall.

At one point, Ehrlich mentioned that his wife, Kendel, had appeared in one of the commercials. Could any student remember her name?

A boy raised his hand.

"What was my wife's name?" Ehrlich asked, pointing to the lad.

"Stephen L. Miles?"

Ways with words

Overheard in a supermarket, as a man leaned across the checkout line for a package of mints: "Pardon my porterhouse reach."

We heard a story about a basketball player boasting of his ability to shoot left handed and right handed. "Yes," he said, "I'm amphibious."

A man who works as a supervisor at a local hospital says an employee was goofing off. The boss told the young man to get back to work. The young man made menacing gestures with his arms and said, "Better back off, man, I know karaoke." (Yeah, right. Nothing like being threatened with a bad rendition of "My Way.")

Concerned about the Maryland smoking ban, a woman was talking about ending, at long last, her nicotine addiction. So, to this end, she was pleased her boss was offering "smoking sensation classes."

I heard a man describe his aunt as "a vociferous reader." In that case, I said, she could have a career recording books on tape.

Walk on the wild side

At dusk, we're driving south on Route 29 toward Columbia and pass beneath a footbridge, with its iron-cage fencing to prevent kids from chucking items at motorists, and there, stark against the setting sun, are five kids walking ON TOP OF THE FENCING!

Gender jolt

Saw a pickup truck in Winfield, Carroll County, with a bug shield. Bug shield marked, "PMS Express." Driver was a real he-guy, looked like the Marlboro Man. Something wrong with that picture, baby.

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