ANNAPOLIS – After two months of pressing by advocates and legislators, Gov. Robert Ehrlich provided nearly $3 million in a supplemental budget Tuesday to the Temporary Emergency Medical and Housing Assistance program, which froze benefits in December to new applicants to avoid a $5 million budget shortfall.
On Dec. 15 the Department of Human Resources stopped the $185 monthly cash payments to new applicants for the program, a safety net for Maryland’s disabled adult population.
All new eligible applicants, including those stalled by the department, will begin receiving the cash April 1 under the program’s new name, the Temporary Disability Assistance Program.
Human Resources Secretary Chris McCabe announced other changes to the program Tuesday to forestall another fiscal crisis next year.
“We never want to confront this issue again,” McCabe said.
The department is considering several changes, including reducing the number of months a person is eligible for short-term assistance in a three-year period from 12 months to 9 months, McCabe said.
The department also identified $2.9 million in internal funds to help ease budget problems, but those funds will be distributed department-wide, McCabe said.
The department had projected that as many as 9,000 applicants could be affected by the freeze, but fewer than 1,000 applications have been received since the freeze took effect.
Many of those applicants are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the department and the governor to get the funds reinstated. That suit may not move forward in light of the new funds, said Peter Sabonis, the plaintiffs’ attorney.
“It’s good news,” Sabonis said. “It’s just unfortunate that people were discouraged (from applying) because of what happened.”
The department expects to see applications spike when word of the funding reaches the community through the county social services offices that process the applications, said Kevin McGuire, head of the Family Investment Administration.
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, who introduced a resolution in February to urge emergency funding, was appreciative of the governor’s action because so many Baltimore residents were affected by the freeze.
“This really is a wonderful day,” McFadden said. “It’s going to be a wonderful Easter.”