BALTIMORE – When Gov. Parris N. Glendening cut the state’s welfare program for the disabled poor early this year, he argued that Maryland had to tighten its belt.
But Thursday, in the same week that Glendening attended a news conference announcing that the Cleveland Browns NFL would move to Baltimore, protesters demanded to know how the governor could afford the $50 million price tag of providing the team with a stadium.
“Is this not the most obscene example of corporate welfare you could ever find?” asked Max Obuszewski, a Baltimorean who is a member of Action for Disability Assistance. “Sure Glendening will claim that it will bring jobs for Marylanders – but these people can’t work. They are disabled. They are the ones being stepped on.”
The $35 million Disability Assistance and Loan Program provided a monthly cash benefit to help the disabled poor pay for clothes, rent, toiletries, transportation and other necessities. Glendening replaced it with Transitional Emergency Medical and Housing Assistance, giving rent vouchers instead of cash.
About 20 protesters arrived at 12:30 p.m. outside the downtown skyscraper that houses Glendening’s Baltimore office. The governor was attending an event in Salisbury.
The protesters said this was not the first time they missed him. On Halloween, they tried to do a little trick or treating at Glendening’s University Park home, but were thwarted by police.
The treat, they said, would have been to see DALP restored. On Thursday, they carried out the trick they didn’t perform on Halloween: They gave a small bag of toiletries, similar to what former DALP recipients now receive from social services, to a Glendening aide, who promised it would find its way to the governor.
Shawn Brennan, who works with the mentally disabled at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, held up a duplicate trick: a plastic bag containing a mini-toothbrush and tube of toothpaste, a razor, a bar of soap and a washcloth.
“How is this supposed to help them?” she asked. “And how can we do this to our most vulnerable citizens, the ones who have no voice?”
Ray Feldman, a Glendening spokesman, said later in Annapolis that the stadium money was set aside for that purpose, and was not part of the operating budget that Glendening trimmed with the DALP cut.
“It’s not like we’re taking away from one to give to another,” Feldman said. “The governor believes the economic impact [of the Browns’ move] will be great.”
Feldman said projected benefits included about 15,000 jobs and $23 million annually in increased business for local merchants.
He noted that protests also accompanied the building of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, adding, “We’ve all seen the success it’s brought to the state.”
But Jennifer Pula, a Baltimore social worker and one of Thursday’s protesters, wasn’t buying that logic.
“It was just a loan to people with disabilities, but the government didn’t want to take any risks on people who they know can’t work for medical reasons,” she said of DALP. “We all don’t realize how close we could be, with a fall or an illness, to needing that assistance ourselves.”
The protesters demanded to see a copy of Glendening’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 1997, and were told they would receive one at a later date. The governor delivers his budget message to the General Assembly in mid-January.
“I want to see what the government plans to do with our most vulnerable citizens,” Pula said. “So far their priorities seem a bit off with the football team.” -30-