ANNAPOLIS – Twenty years in cotton and steel mills left Gerald Wilcox so injured he can hardly walk to his neighborhood grocer without pain. State taxpayers fund a program that he says keeps him alive.
Wilcox, 57, is among 22,000 Marylanders helped yearly by the $48 million Disability Assistance and Loan Program, which Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants to eliminate.
The Brooklyn man has received $157 a month since 1989, when back injuries forced him to stop working. The cash helps rent his 1965 trailer home.
He also gets free medical care through the program for emphysema, bronchitis, asthma and back pain.
“If they get rid of DALP, I’ll probably go homeless,” Wilcox said recently.
DALP, which Maryland funds solely with state tax dollars, serves people who are both disabled and poor until they go back to work or become eligible for federal disability payments.
“This program reaches out to individuals who are falling through the cracks of other programs,” said Nancy Fiedler of the Maryland Hospital Association.
But Glendening, in unveiling his budget two weeks ago, called DALP “a program we can no longer afford.”
“It just does not make sense for us to nip and tuck and cut our priorities of education, safe streets, business growth and jobs to support a $48 million Maryland-only welfare system,” Glendening said.
Advocates for the poor, however, call DALP a program Maryland can’t afford to lose.
Ann Ciekot of Action for the Homeless in Baltimore estimates that 5,000 will go homeless with the cut. Still others point out that the DALP population will have to be served somehow.
“These people aren’t going to disappear,” said William S. Ratchford II, director of the Department of Fiscal Services, the General Assembly’s non-partisan policy analysts. “Some will go to charities and churches…some to crime…some will end up in emergency rooms. The hospitals will absorb the costs…which will be passed on to taxpayers by health insurance companies.”
Private charities loudly oppose the cut, maintaining they are overburdened already.
“We cannot make up for this program,” said Kevin Appleby of the Maryland Catholic Conference, the largest non-profit provider of community services in the state.
And last week, DALP recipients joined the advocates’ arguments.
Rodney Francis Toliver bounced in and out of hospitals for several months before he was directed to DALP. He had worked two decades at Bethlehem Steel until drug use caused inflammation of the skin in his arms.
Through DALP, Toliver got free surgery. After a year in the program, he’s off drugs and in job training.
“DALP kept me off the streets. I’m not a broken man anymore,” Toliver said.
Joe Johnson was homeless in Baltimore, where three-fourths of DALP recipients live, before he found out about the program. He asked lawmakers at a special briefing to restore at least some funding.
“While I was working, I developed a physical injury,” Johnson said. “I used all my savings. I tried to find easier jobs. I found myself in the sweatshops. My rent tripled….I gave up my car. I lost my phone. And I was illegally evicted.”
The $157 monthly payments “partially helped” pay his rent, he said. Charitable organizations made up the balance.
“Once you get ill,” Johnson said, “you never recover on the streets, it only gets worse.”
George Leonard, 35, whose severe arthritis kept him from steady employment, spent two years in DALP while awaiting Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federal disability program.
Once approved for SSI, DALP clients go off the state rolls and receive a monthly federal stipend of $458. The state is reimbursed DALP stipends from the date of the SSI application.
But Glendening also wants to eliminate the $2.7 million Disability Entitlement Advocacy Program, which assists DALP recipients in applying for federal aid. This, critics say, could cost millions in federal disability payments that flow through Maryland’s economy.
“People like Mr. Leonard have been denied SSI because they didn’t get access to medical exams to prove they are disabled,” said Grace Webb of the Legal Aid Bureau, which represents thousands of DALP recipients.
Glendening is sticking to the cut, assuring opponents that “there are safety nets for these people.” Among programs the administration says will remain:
– Food stamps, already going to most DALP recipients.
– Federal Medical Assistance (Medicaid), received by about 65 percent of recipients who have been disabled a year or longer.
– Pharmacy Assistance, a state subsidy for prescription drugs, going to recipients who don’t get Medicaid.
– Other state-funded health care, for which the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is developing a plan.
– SSI, with which DALP recipients may get application help from the Department of Human Resources. “The governor has been discussing this issue with legislative leaders in the context of the budget, but there has been no final plan,” said Chuck Porcari, a Glendening spokesman, said Friday. -30-