Initial reviews less-than-promising for scaled-down disabled poor program


The first reviews are in about the state's scaled-down program for the disabled poor, and they are thumbs down.

Four participants in the program told state officials yesterday that -- despite Gov. Parris N. Glendening's pledge that budget cuts wouldn't increase homelessness -- they had lost their homes or were about to.

"I'm homeless now. I got put out," Theodore Wilson, 57, told Lynda Fox, deputy secretary of human resources, in a Baltimore meeting set up by advocates for the homeless.

Mr. Wilson, a former assembly line worker who said he is disabled by high blood pressure and other ailments, said he lost his $175-a-month room in West Baltimore. He said his landlord wouldn't accept a $50-a-month voucher the state offered under the new, $11.2 million Transitional Emergency Medical and Housing Assistance (TEMHA) program.

Under the old, $35 million Disability Assistance and Loan Program (DALP), which the state scrapped July 1 to save money, Mr. Wilson got $157 a month in cash. The new program cut benefits by more than 60 percent to 22,000 former DALP recipients, three-quarters of them in Baltimore.

Brenda Lee Cowan, 48, said she expected to be homeless by the end of the month. She said she worked as a custodian before being diagnosed with heart disease two years ago. Since then, she has stayed with friends and relatives, using DALP benefits to help pay expenses.

"Nobody is going to let you live for free," she said. "Your family and friends help you as much as they can, but they're in financial problems. When you become disabled, people are really afraid of you. People don't want you to die in their house."

Ms. Fox pledged to find help for Mr. Wilson, Ms. Cowan and two other former DALP recipients. But she said people should seek help from their local social services departments because "we don't do individual casework here."

The state official said less than a third of former DALP participants had visited the local agencies, despite four letters explaining the program cuts. She added that of the more than 13,000 Baltimore residents eligible for housing aid, only 2,721 xTC had been issued $50 vouchers so far and 500 had received $125-a-month rental assistance certificates.

Ms. Fox speculated that some former DALP recipients had perhaps not "confronted reality yet." She said others may have found help from family or friends, or had unreported income. DALP was limited to disabled people who had no income and had applied for federal disability benefits.

But Jeff Singer, community relations director of Health Care for the Homeless, said many former DALP participants probably thought the TEMHA program was "a waste of time." He said local social services agencies didn't have the staff to reach out to recipients or to administer the program.

"A lot of people did show up and were not helped," Mr. Singer said. "From a practical perspective, the only way to fix TEMHA is to eliminate it. The program was designed to fail because of the parameters the governor set out: too little money and a very bureaucratic method of distributing it."

Ms. Fox said the state expected to use $1.5 million in federal housing funds to expand the TEMHA program. She said Maryland would also work with the Social Security Administration to shorten the time it takes for applicants to receive disability benefits or be denied.

She encouraged the advocates to, "if you feel there's a pattern of problems [with the TEMHA program], come back and let us know that. . . . The last thing I personally want to do is make anybody homeless."

But the advocates told the deputy secretary that a pattern of increasing homelessness already has emerged less than a month into the new program.

Ann Ciekot, acting director of Action for the Homeless, said: "The last thing you want to see, we are seeing: People are becoming homeless."

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