WASHINGTON – The Senate is scheduled to take up a bill Wednesday that would cut social services funding to the states by $859 million next year, a cut that state officials warned could have a “direct impact on families in Maryland.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday voted to cut funding for the Social Services Block Grant from $1.9 billion in fiscal 1999 to $1.05 billion in fiscal 2000. The cut came as part of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill.
The House Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, is likely to keep block grant funding at $1.9 billion when it takes up its version of the bill Thursday, a committee staffer said. But the House version of the bill also cuts $3 billion from federal funding to the states under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
The dueling cuts have kept state officials off balance, just days before the Friday start of fiscal 2000.
“Any cut that the Congress passes on to the states means that it threatens the services we provide because of funding,” said Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening. “This is a direct impact on families in Maryland. We’re going to have to go back and see what this means see and what it’s going to impact directly.
“[Congress is] passing on the commitments to the state but it’s not passing the funding to meet the commitments it’s made,” he said.
The Senate committee vote Tuesday came as Glendening was announcing plans to “refocus” Maryland’s welfare reform efforts, to put more emphasis on helping people stay off welfare permanently.
The governor’s plan calls for an expansion of child-care assistance eligibility guidelines, to cover an additional 6,215 children, and more emphasis on job retraining. He said he also plans to put an additional $22.7 million aside from federal funds for a welfare “rainy day” account, in case the economy takes a downturn and welfare rolls increase. That move would boost the state’s rainy day reserves for welfare to $56 million.
But the ability of states like Maryland to bankroll their savings from welfare reform has apparently convinced Congress that the states can absorb a funding cut, said Raymond C. Scheppach, executive director for the National Governors Association.
The NGA said Thursday that states’ ability to move families from welfare to self-sufficiency would be undermined by the cuts Congress is contemplating and it urged lawmakers to vote against the cuts.
The social services block grant “gets whittled away each year, but that’s an incredibly substantial cut,” said NGA policy analyst Gretchen Odegard of the Senate’s proposed $1.05 billion block grant budget.
States use block grant funds to provide services primarily to vulnerable, low-income children, the elderly and disabled. Groups that would be most affected by funding cuts would not be welfare recipients, Odegard said, but people who use social services like foster care, Meals on Wheels and programs for the elderly.
Most states have already set their fiscal 2000 budgets, based on this year’s federal funding, said Wendell Primus, director of income security at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. They may not be able to cope with the proposed Senate cuts just days before the start of the fiscal year, he said.
“States may have assumed they’d go to $1.9 billion, but to go all the way to just a hair over a billion may catch them unaware,” Primus said. “That’s a huge, huge cut anyway.”