WASHINGTON – State legislators Wednesday came to the Capitol seeking answers from Maryland congressmen about how deeply federal budget cuts will slash checks for welfare, Medicare and student loans.
“We want to know, should we base everything on a worst-case scenario or be optimistic?” asked state Sen. Delores Kelley, D- Baltimore County.
Added state Del. Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery: “Gov. [Parris] Glendening announced that as of Jan. 1, there may be a significant decrease in welfare. … We’re concerned, frankly, with what’s on the table and whether we are going to be able to make it work.”
Legislators were told last week by Glendening that because of proposed federal cuts, welfare funds in Maryland could be reduced by as much as 30 percent. That would decrease the monthly check of a family of three from $373 to $261, Franchot said.
State Del. P.J. Hogan, R-Montgomery, said he was concerned about the strings attached to proposed federal block grants in welfare reform and how much money each state would receive.
He asked if block grants will be determined according to the money states used last year. If so, Maryland would lose money, Hogan said, because it already reduced its welfare budget.
“Those states that have been sloppy with their reform will profit,” he said.
Many of the questions went unanswered.
But Sen. Paul Sarbanes, a Democrat and chairman of the congressional delegation, told the legislators they should be alarmed at the GOP welfare reform plans.
The current system increases a state’s grants if the number of welfare recipients increases or unemployment increases, said Sarbanes. Neither the House nor the Senate bills make provisions for changes in the economy, he said.
“If unemployment goes up to 6 or 7 percent, we’re in a crisis,” Sarbanes said.
Legislators also said they were concerned about reforms affecting seniors, such as Medicare, which will be voted on in the House Thursday. The House bill proposes saving $270 billion in the health program over seven years.
There are almost 500,000 Maryland residents on Medicare and Medicaid, Franchot said.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican, said programs have to be reduced to balance the budget.
“All these programs were not sustainable as they were. It’s just a matter of degree to which they need to be reformed,” Gilchrest said. “Just be ready for massive change and try to be sure that change is more positive than negative.”
But Sarbanes attacked the reform measures, calling them unnecessary. He accused Republicans of benefitting from the cuts.
“The Republicans plan to balance the budget to include a $245 million tax cut, which will go primarily to upper-income people,” Sarbanes said. “If we weren’t going to have tax cuts, we wouldn’t need to cut these programs.” -30-