ANNAPOLIS – State officials warned legislators Friday that set-up costs for a baby voucher proposal in a welfare reform bill could be “astronomical.”
The baby voucher was added to the House version of welfare reform legislation last week. It is meant to soften the blow of the so-called family cap, which denies additional cash payments for children conceived and born while their mothers are receiving public aid.
The monthly voucher would be worth about $40 — 60 percent of the average $74 cash increase women on welfare currently receive for each additional child. It could be spent only on baby products.
But covering items besides food — clothes and furniture, for instance — would pose problems, lawmakers were told.
Officials are considering implementing the voucher through Maryland’s computer-run Independence Card. Welfare recipients use the cards much as other citizens use debit cards, to purchase food or to collect child support.
Linda Fox, an official of the Department of Human Resources, said the card currently cannot be used at retail stores other than grocers.
Critics said this would limit the kinds of purchases parents could make for their children.
“What if a mother needed clothes, or a crib, or something besides food?” asked Ann Ciecot of Action for the Homeless, a Baltimore-based advocacy group. Ciecot spoke before the Senate Finance Committee Friday on behalf of eleven other organizations opposed to the family cap.
“The voucher perpetuates the myth that mothers use the benefit increase for something other than their children,” Ciekot said.
Fox said the department was looking into expanding the card’s use, but warned that this could “take two to five years and the costs would be astronomical.” -30-