ANNAPOLIS – Anti-poverty activists rallied in front of the State House Thursday, trying to influence legislators to provide more money for programs for the poor in this tight budget year.
“We need your help. We can’t do this alone” chanted the crowd, as legislators held their morning sessions in the House and Senate.
The Center for Poverty Solutions, Students Sharing Coalition, Health Care for the Homeless and Advocates for Children and Youth organized the rally.
Members and clients of the organizations spoke to the crowd, which included 150 students from 14 state high schools.
“We’re the lobbyists today,” said Jeff Singer, president of Health Care for the Homeless.
The budget, he said, must not be balanced “on the backs of the poor.”
But the governor and the General Assembly have faced tough budget choices this year. If no action were taken, the state would face a $1 billion difference between spending and revenues.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s budget proposal closed the deficit by rescinding the state income tax cut, dipping into program reserve funds, and underfunding Medicaid, analysts said. His budget proposes a 2.7 percent increase in spending from 2002 and provides no new program funding.
Glendening Deputy Chief of Staff Kay Casstevens told the crowd “agencies need to collaborate to streamline resources and programs at the state level.”
Later, those attending the rally met with legislators to push their budget priorities, which included rejecting cuts to addiction treatment and mental health services.
Proposed cuts include $13.8 million of a proposed $15 million statewide increase in the 2003 budget of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, according to the advocates. Of that, $9 million would be cut from Baltimore and $4 million from new treatment initiatives throughout the state.
The advocates said proposals would eliminate mental health services for poor and uninsured Marylanders.
Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard, told one group about her commitment to their causes and the Governor’s Commission to Study Poverty in Maryland, which Glendening created in December.
The commission will review definitions of poverty, determine the degree of poverty in Maryland and evaluate its root causes. It also will consider the need for, and availability of, resources to address the needs of poor Marylanders.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Maryland has the lowest poverty rate in the nation, 7.6 percent compared to 12.6 percent nationally.
“We cannot use that as an excuse” to stop, Bobo said. “If we’re lowest, then we’re closest to getting rid of it.”