ANNAPOLIS – Key Eastern Shore legislators pledged their support for anti-hunger measures at a meeting Thursday with members of the Maryland Coalition to End Hunger.
“The Eastern Shore is being left out. We want to make sure we’re being heard,” said Robert Hooks, president of the coalition’s new Eastern Shore caucus and a resident of Somerset County, the third poorest jurisdiction in the state.
Participating lawmakers were Delegates Kenneth D. Schisler, R-Talbot, Don Hughes, R-Wicomico, and Adelaide Eckardt, R- Dorchester.
Hooks asked the lawmakers to include welfare recipients in decisions about welfare reform and to support:
– Adding $500,000 to 1996 funds for senior nutrition programs. The increase would result in lower health care costs, advocates said.
– Funding school food services at the 1991 level of $8 million. The 1995 budget allocation for the program is about half that. The program provides meals for poor children.
– Keeping the $1 million allocated for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). WIC provides nutrition education, foods and access to health care to eligible pregnant women, infants and children up to age five.
All the programs have been consistently cut back by the legislature since 1991, said Rhonda Ray, a public policy director for the coalition.
“WIC helps my children tremendously,” said Hermon Bland, a welfare father of three who lives in Crisfield and who made the trip to Annapolis with the coaltion.
Bland said WIC supplements the $405 welfare check and $311 in food stamps he gets each month to feed his children, ages 2, 3 and 4. “Without the WIC program, I doubt if I could feed my children correctly,” he said.
Schisler, who is chairman of the Eastern Shore Delegation, said he supports WIC, but “within the confines of the budget. As times get tough, things have to be cut back.”
Schisler said he would prefer to see parental responsibility requirements added to programs like WIC.
“I’d also like to see parents given assistance or economic training to help people get the most bang for their buck,” he added.
Catrina Creighton, a Dorchester County resident who spent over a decade on welfare, asked that recipients like herself be allowed to participate in decision-making about welfare reform.
Creighton took part in a recent welfare roundtable with U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland. The process leads to better understanding among lawmakers of what welfare is all about, she said.
Hughes concurred. “I think that’s an excellent idea,” he said, noting that welfare recipients in rural areas should especially be heard because the legislature tends to pay more attention to city dwellers.
The delegates also agreed with coalition members that job creation should be a part of welfare reform.
“The answer to welfare reform,” Schisler said, “is to create a favorable business climate….By reducing overburdensome regulations and the oppressive level of taxation in Maryland, we can do more to create jobs than any other program we can create.”
Eckardt added that Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s administration has pledged this year to help businesses hire more women and minorities, which could in turn reduce the welfare rolls.
“The government can’t provide all the jobs but we can give incentive to the private sector to create jobs,” Eckardt said.
The Coalition to End Hunger is a political wing of the Maryland Food Committee, a statewide network of anti-hunger advocates. -30-