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Welfare reform bill gains


Maryland would cut welfare benefits for new recipients and pregnant women to help pay for a welfare reform program under a bill approved by the House of Delegates yesterday.

As proposed in House Bill 1, pregnant women would begin receiving welfare benefits in their third trimester, about six months later than they do now.

The bill also would delay benefits to families entering the welfare rolls for about two weeks while their applications are reviewed.

The proposed changes would save an estimated $3.5 million.

The cuts are designed to help finance a pilot welfare reform program that would require recipients to perform community service and enter a job training program unless they found work within three months.

The money saved through the cuts would help pay for child care and job training for the program's participants.

Redistributing money within the state's welfare program to fund reform is part of a broader fiscal strategy in Annapolis, legislators said. "We are committed in the next two years to cutting taxes, so we can't be adding on programmatic costs," said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat.

Carolyn Davis, a deputy chief of staff for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said the proposed cuts also were driven to some extent by concerns about federal welfare funding.

"As we continue to reform welfare, it appears that there may be less money coming from the Feds, so it's a good idea to be human but, at the same time, cost-efficient," Ms. Davis said.

The House endorsed the pilot program yesterday by a vote of 121-11. A similar measure is pending in the Senate. The pilot program would serve 3,000 households in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties.

As participants move into jobs, the state would pay for child care so parents could work.

Child care would be the program's single greatest expense, costing $2.7 million in the first year alone, according to estimates by the state Department of Fiscal Services.

The department also estimates that it would cost $880,000 to provide job training to half the program's participants in the first year. The state's current welfare-to-work program, Project Independence, would absorb the remaining people in the pilot under one proposal being considered.

The major difference between the House and Senate proposals is the so-called family cap. Under the House bill, the state would not increase payments to women who have more children while on welfare. The Senate bill would continue the current practice of additional benefits for additional children.

Proponents say a cap would encourage parental responsibility, while critics say it would punish children for their parents' irresponsible behavior.

Delegate McIntosh said she expected the full General Assembly to adopt a compromise before the legislative session ends April 10.

Under the House proposal, mothers who have additional children on welfare would still receive vouchers to help pay for some of the infant's needs, such as diapers and baby formula.

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