In welfare offices, reform hasn't solved problems,...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In welfare offices, reform hasn't solved problems, confusions

When will those who write of welfare reform spend a day in a welfare office or sit down with a group of welfare recipients, rather than chatting with the national experts and state and local officials far removed from the trenches?

Had the author of The Sun's editorial "A welcome surprise in welfare that works" (Sept. 13) spent time with the real experts on welfare reform -- the participants directly affected -- he or she would have discovered that:

1) It is not the "forbidding" atmosphere of reform that keeps families from the medical care they remain eligible for after they exit welfare for work, but the negligence of the state, which chose to terminate their coverage despite the federal law requiring that it be continued automatically for 12 months ("Maryland mishandles welfare reform," May 21).

2) The atmosphere in Baltimore City welfare offices is no better than it was before welfare reform. The bureaucratic culture still exists: Forms are lost, confusing notices are mailed and a three-to-four hour wait to see a worker is common.

3) Real reform in welfare has occurred by sidestepping the lethargic welfare office culture and outsourcing work to community nonprofit agencies, staffed by people with energy and commitment.

4) Surplus funds have made outsourcing the primary means of dealing with every problem in the system, causing much confusion for clients and wasting tax dollars. A welfare customer hoping to overcome a substance abuse problem can have, for instance, as many as four "casemanagers" -- two from the welfare office, one from Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems and one from an HMO.

5) More job opportunities exist in the counties surrounding Baltimore than in the city, that transportation is a major obstacle and that, even if you can get there, these jobs will pay low wages.

6) Work experience alone does not translate into increased earnings.

For the past 17 months, we at the Family Investment Program Legal Clinic have been trying, through legal representation at city welfare offices, to give voice to those directly affected by welfare reform.

Yet articles on reform are dominated by quotes from welfare officials and researchers patting themselves on the back.

The poor are not helpless. They can speak for themselves. Just ask them.

Peter Sabonis

Baltimore

The writer is director of the Family Investment Program Legal Clinic.

The Sun's editorial "A welcome surprise in welfare that works" (Sept. 13) picks up on some of the problems associated with welfare reform. It doesn't go far enough, however, since it doesn't look widely enough for relevant information.

On Sept. 12, The Sun carried a wire story about more children living in shelters ("Homeless shelters send kids to school") and an article on drug treatment, which noted that there is no accurate information on how well programs function. ("Disappointments define Schmoke administration").

But the editorial doesn't consider that changes in the shelter or drug-using population could be related to welfare reform.

The Sun continues to try to find merit in reform, rather than look broadly at the connections among the miseries that beset the poor.

Harris Chaiklin

Columbia

A 'democracy' where only the monied have a voice

During the mayoral campaign, Barry Rascovar, Michael Olesker and Dan Rodricks of The Sun, Andrew McCarthy of the Afro-American, Marc Steiner of WJHU and many other leading pundits sounded as if there were only three candidates.

Shame on all these so-called experts. In a truly democratic fashion, all of the candidates should have been discussed.

Totally ignored was A. Robert Kaufman, who fought for civil rights and social justice before Martin O'Malley and Lawrence Bell were born. Mr. Kaufman had a real agenda on the drug crisis, lowering car insurance rates, democratizing the school board and much more.

Those with money have a voice; those without money are voiceless.

Now, in the race for president, perhaps corporations should just appoint Texas Gov. George W. Bush as our leader and save us all the time and expense of voting.

We had a choice of three for mayor and will have a choice of two for president. And if we don't like our choices, tough.

Those few of us who vote generally have to take a good shower afterward. Some democracy.

Gerald Ben Shargel

Reisterstown

Don't condemn the police who protect us from harm

There they go again, the Monday morning Rambos, condemning police officers when they have to use deadly force ("Excessive force was used in Baltimore Co. shooting," letters, Sept. 13).

Those critics should ride along with the officers on a Friday night and show them how to disarm potential murderers.

It is easy to condemn the police from the safety of one's living room. But anyone with a weapon who faces an officer is a potential murderer.

It's a violent world and without these officers, it would be much more violent.

Claude Lawson Jr.

Ocean Pines

Police need better options for confronting guns

Like other residents of Rodgers Forge, I do not fully understand how and why our neighbor Tambra Eddinger was shot and killed Sept. 6 in a standoff with police.

I am not suggesting mean-spiritedness or carelessness on the part of the police. But I do question the training police receive to handle cases involving impaired, noncriminal people armed with guns.

They need to be trained to use more effective non-lethal weapons.

Given that many U.S. households have at least one gun, the police need to be better trained and equipped in the event they are confronted with the family gun.

Let me also point out that the incident clearly and tragically illustrates the risk of keeping guns in the home -- a perspective that has not been included in The Sun's coverage of the shooting.

Studies have shown that homicides of a household member are three times as likely in homes with guns than those without them. The risk of suicide increases nearly five times in homes with guns.

Susan DeFrancesco

Baltimore

Keep public agencies from selling guns

President Clinton's idea to get guns off our streets is a noble plan ("Clinton announces gun buyback plan," Sept. 10).

However, recent news reports indicate that many municipal police departments sell excess guns to dealers, who resell them to the public. Some of these guns have been bought and used by criminals.

Perhaps, along with committing $15 million tax dollars for gun buybacks, we should bar any agency receiving federal funds from selling guns in the first place.

Elizabeth H. Lehmann

Phoenix

'What is' vs. 'what should be'

Thank you for The Sun's poignant juxtaposition of the article (and picture) on white flight ("Columbia parents vote with their bus," Sept. 14) and the heartwarming three-quarter page ad from Deutsche Bank showing a black child and a white child arm-in-arm.

It would be hard to create a better contrast between the way things are and the way they ought to be.

Michelle O'Leary

Gwynn Oak

It's the brass that hears the music

The caption under a Sept. 8 picture taken at the rededication of the armed forces recruiting station in New York stated that the USO worker "sings to a G.I."

In fact, the recipient of the song was a two-star general -- as was the uniformed individual seated next to him.

The term "G.I." has always referred to enlisted men.

Gerald M. Rosenthal

Baltimore

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