Gov. Parris N. Glendening pledged yesterday to spend an additional $46 million on child care for thousands of low-income families struggling to remain off welfare.
With the number of Marylanders on welfare continuing to drop dramatically, the state has accumulated a surplus in the program of $86 million -- money the governor said should be used largely to help people stay off public assistance.
"Keeping people off of welfare, especially in the short run, requires significant support," Glendening said.
The number of people receiving welfare benefits has gone from 227,887 in January 1995, when Glendening took office, to 80,886 last month. Analysts say the drop is because of the booming economy and the national shift in policy to push welfare recipients into work.
Even as he outlined plans to spend some of the state's welfare savings, Glendening criticized a Republican proposal pending in Congress to take back $4 billion in welfare funds from the states to help balance the federal budget.
Congress froze welfare grants to the states when it enacted welfare reform four years ago. As the number of people receiving direct assistance dropped, Maryland built a surplus of federal funds.
"Our progress is being threatened by proposals in the U.S. House of Representatives," Glendening said. "They want to raid this fund to avoid making those hard decisions that I believe are part of governing."
"This is the first program the federal government has devolved to the states," Madden said. "It would be a terrible precedent if they followed through on this."
The governor's plan would expand eligibility for state-subsidized child care and make it available to an additional 6,200 children next year.
Under current rules, a family of three with an annual income of $22,000 or less is eligible for state-funded child care. Glendening said he would change state regulations to raise that standard to $25,000.
Finding affordable child care is consistently noted as one of the toughest problems for parents to solve as they leave welfare.
The state budget for this year includes $108 million for child care. Glendening's proposal would increase that by more than 40 percent.
Advocates for the poor said they were happy with the governor's proposals.
"You need to support still-fragile families who are out there working," said Lynda Meade, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities. "This will make a difference in people's lives."