ANNAPOLIS – While proposals to strengthen families and enforce child support collection in Maryland were praised Tuesday by welfare reform advocates, the so-called family cap remained controversial.
The cap, in its second year of debate in the General Assembly, denies additional cash to mothers who bear children ten months or later after joining the welfare rolls. It is part of the Welfare Reform Pilot Program bill that otherwise has wide support.
The cap’s purpose is to “promote responsible family planning,” Del. Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, sponsor of the pilot program bill, told members of the House Appropriations Committee.
But critics, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening, say the cap punishes children for the actions of their parents.
“It’s the children who will suffer if the family cap goes into effect,” said Grace Webb of the Legal Aid Bureau, which represents thousands of welfare recipients.
Rawlings maintains that children denied benefits would still be eligible for food stamps and medical assistance.
But critics insist that the cap, which they call the “child exclusion” provision, also violates the basic civil liberties of women to choose whether to have children.
Jacqueline R. Scott of the American Civil Liberties Union told the committee that in New Jersey, where similar legislation was passed three years ago, the ACLU has taken the government to court. She urged Maryland legislators to wait for that case to be decided before enacting a law here.
Scott appeared on behalf of the Coalition on Responsible Welfare Reform, whose members – all opposed to the cap – included Planned Parenthood, Maryland Right to Life, the Baltimore Jewish Council, Welfare Advocates, the Maryland Food Committee and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
“It makes a strong statement about the family cap issue when pro-life organizations and those that proclaim a pro-choice agenda get together to oppose the same provision of a bill,” said Carey Lynn Garst of Maryland Right to Life.
Last year, a battle between those forces – chiefly over last-minute linkage of the family cap to more Medicaid funds for abortion – caused the Legislature to drop the cap. As a result, former Gov. William Donald Schaefer refused to sign the welfare reform bill into law.
Most of those at Tuesday’s hearing praised the other aspects of Rawlings’ bill.
Beyond the statewide family cap, the bill would create a pilot program for 2,000 randomly selected recipients in the city of Baltimore and Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties. The program, requiring a federal waiver, would cost the state $2.3 million, according to the Department of Fiscal Services.
The bill also:
– Limits recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children to 18 monthly benefit payments unless they fulfill work requirements.
– Encourages two-parent families by allowing wage earners to work more than 100 hours per month.
– Extends medical assistance for up to two years after a recipient is employed, and provides transportation and child care.
– Raises the ceiling on recipients’ assets. They could have savings of up to $5,000 and own a car worth $5,000. – Disregards some step-parents’ income when determining a child’s AFDC eligibility. -30-