In a speech to an audience of 800 disabled people and their advocates, Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday defended his elimination of a state disability program -- and warned of further budget cuts because of pending cuts in federal aid.
About a dozen activists, dressed in black, stood with their backs to Mr. Glendening during his address to the group, which had gathered for the Maryland Disability Forum at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Baltimore.
Making clear their displeasure with the governor's elimination of the state's Disability Assistance and Loan Program on July 1, the protesters wore white letters on their back that spelled out "Restore DALP Now." After the speech, they jeered as they repeated that demand.
One of the protesters was arrested on a trespassing charge before entering the hotel, and others were forced by police to leave placards, banners and a casket outside the building when they entered to hear the governor.
The activists in black were among about 50 protesters at the hotel yesterday from a group known as Action for Disability Assistance, which is composed of social work professionals, one-time DALP recipients, students and others who banded together to work for restoration of the program.
The $35 million program had provided benefits of $157 a month -- money for rent, transportation and other necessities -- to 22,000 of the state's poor and disabled who have not secured federal assistance. Mr. Glendening replaced it with an $11 million housing voucher program.
He also cut a companion $13 million medical program to about $7 million, in all slashing the average recipient's benefits by more than 60 percent.
Mr. Glendening, fulfilling a campaign promise to meet with the "disability community" on a regular basis, outlined the rationale for the DALP cuts to members of 40 disability groups attending the forum.
The governor described the elimination of DALP as one of the "major hard decisions that affect very real people in a very real way."
"We made the decision to end the program as it was known and replace it with one which we believe will be more effective," he said.
"As I said during the campaign and during the [legislative] session . . ., we will not be able to continue as we have in the past with a number of programs -- and not just those for which you in this room have a primary concern."
Max Obuszewski, a spokesman for the protest group, later decried "the governor's lack of commitment to the poor with disabilities."
"We have been talking with people on the front lines who are expecting people to suffer greatly and expect that someone will die" because of the cuts, Mr. Obuszewski said.