ANNAPOLIS – Nearly 100 federal disability applicants rallied for the governor’s attention during the State of the State address Thursday morning, clamoring to get their monthly cash benefit reinstated.
A residential treatment program called I Can’t We Can bused a group of residents from its Baltimore facility to the capital carrying handmade signs directed at Gov. Robert Ehrlich to protest cuts made to the Transitional Emergency Medical and Housing Assistance program last month.
“We are here to let the governor know that we would appreciate the funds being restored,” said Al Moye, program director for the facility.
The state program gives $185 a month to applicants eligible for federal Supplemental Security Income benefits to help them get housing and medical care until the Social Security Administration awards them disability payments, which can take up to two years.
The Department of Human Resources projected a $5 million deficit if it continued paying the benefit and on Jan. 12 began withholding payment to those who applied since Dec. 15, 2003, for the rest of the fiscal year.
Delegate Salima Marriott, D-Baltimore, drafted a joint resolution urging the governor to include $5 million in his 2005 budget to cover the program’s deficit. Because the legislators can’t add to the budget, she said, it is the governor’s responsibility to take care of this population of vulnerable citizens.
“What we have here is a governor asking us to be bipartisan, yet he is making decisions that will negatively impact our urban and suburban populations, which are primarily Democratic,” Marriott said.
Thursday’s protesters use the cash benefit to pay for room and board at the treatment center. The non-profit center also operates on private donations, but Moye said the center can’t give the same level of treatment to residents who don’t have some income.
“We haven’t had to turn anyone away yet,” Moye said, but he expects crime rates to increase and a higher number of substance abusers to go to prison, instead of treatment, as a result of the benefit freeze.
“The recidivism rate for prisons, it just becomes a revolving door,” Moye said.
In his speech, the governor cited a 51 percent adult offender recidivism rate and that 75 percent of entering inmates are involved in drugs or alcohol. He offered project RESTART as part of the solution for inmate substance abuse treatment, but he did not mention restoring funding to the disability assistance program. The governor’s spokeswoman, Shareese DeLeaver, said he is working with the Department of Human Resources to resolve the funding issue and he will reveal any plans in the next several weeks.