Maryland would receive less money -- but face sharply higher costs -- under either of the two welfare reform bills now headed for a congressional conference committee, state officials say.
Human Resources Secretary Alvin C. Collins estimates that Maryland would lose $25 million to $50 million a year in federal aid under the bills, which would reduce payments to states to last year's levels.
Because states also would face tough new requirements to put welfare parents to work, Maryland would have to find millions of dollars more to pay for day care for their children, Mr. Collins said.
"Reforming the system means helping parents to be more responsible -- but at the same time, you have to give them the tools to do that," he said.
The double pinch -- less money and higher costs -- could force state lawmakers to rethink Maryland's long tradition of providing financial support to disadvantaged residents.
"For the first time, Maryland will have to decide if it has an entitlement program -- and if not, how to treat people who walk into the door after the last dollar is spent," Linda Wolf, deputy director of the American Public Welfare Association, told lawmakers in Annapolis this week.
The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved its version of welfare reform legislation Tuesday, sending the bill to a conference committee to work out differences with a more conservative House version. President Clinton has indicated he would sign a measure similar to the Senate's.
The proposals would dramatically alter the nation's social policy, ending the long-standing guarantee of welfare benefits for anyone who is poor enough to qualify. The bills would require recipients to get a job within two years and would cut off cash benefits after five.
The federal payment to Maryland for welfare, expected at $275 million to $300 million this year, would be cut to $247 million and remain at that level through 2000.
Maryland officials said the budget crunch could jeopardize a state welfare-to-work project that was approved by the General Assembly only five months ago and was authorized by a federal waiver last month.
Lynda Fox, a deputy secretary of human resources, said the state will have enough money to finance the pilot jobs program for 3,000 recipients in Baltimore City and in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.
But, she said, it is clear the state would not have enough money to expand the program to all 82,000 welfare recipients statewide, even if it proves to be successful.
"If we can't afford to do it statewide, does it make sense to do it for 3,000 [recipients]?" she asked members of a House appropriations subcommittee.
The dilemma, said subcommittee Chairman Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, is that the Maryland pilot was based on the assumption that if more money were spent on child care and job training, welfare recipients could be put into meaningful jobs.
The federal welfare reform effort assumes that can be done while spending less money, he noted.