ANNAPOLIS – Women lawmakers told Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend Wednesday that the governor should back off from his plan to cut state funds for low-income pregnant women.
The program pays $209 per month until a woman’s third trimester, when she can apply for Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Under the governor’s proposal, that would be reduced to a one-time payment of $100, according to J.C. Shay, a spokesman for the Department of Human Resources.
“I think it’s unconscionable,” Del. Marsha Perry, D-Anne Arundel, said in an interview. “I think to be the fifth- wealthiest [state], I think it’s disgusting. We’re talking about babies, we’re talking about infant deaths.”
Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, president of the legislative women’s caucus, asked Townsend to use her influence with Gov. Parris N. Glendening on behalf of the caucus’ 1996 legislative agenda. Besides aid to pregnant women, the group has endorsed eight bills:
– Four relating to domestic violence, by Del. Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery.
– A bill to make sure inmates who have a drug or alcohol problem get treatment, by Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore Co.
– A bill that would prohibit insurance companies and HMOs from discriminating against people on the basis of genetic information, by Forehand.
– A bill that would revoke or deny professional licenses to people who fall behind in paying child support, sponsored by Del. Pauline Menes, D-Prince George’s, and Del. Mark K. Shriver, D- Montgomery.
– The governor’s gun-control legislation, which limits handgun purchases to one per person per month and licenses handgun owners.
Perry defended the aid to pregnant women, saying the program has helped raise the state’s infant mortality rate from fourth- worst in the country to ninth-worst.
“We hear so much about evil social programs, but this is a social program that is saving babies’ lives,” she said.
Glendening wants to cut the program’s total budget from $1.9 million to $300,000, said Shay, the Human Resources spokesman.
“In the climate of fiscal constraint…, we feel this is a viable solution,” Shay said.
Shay said other assistance is available to the approximately 1,800 women served by the program last year.
He cited a largely federal nutritional program called Women, Infants and Children, or WIC. Last year, the average monthly grant per participant, including children, was $48, according to Tori Leonard, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Leonard’s department also runs a medical assistance program for low-income pregnant women and parents called Pregnant Women and Children, or PWC. Last year, Leonard said, 10,900 women who gave birth were served by that program, along with 38,000 children, at a total cost of $73 million. -30-