WASHINGTON – Maryland could lose millions of dollars for entitlement programs like food stamps and Medicaid over the next five years under the House’s fiscal 2006 budget resolution, according to a report released Wednesday.
The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said that Maryland could lose up to $536 million over five years for programs like Medicaid, food stamps, welfare payments and the earned income tax credit, among others, if cuts envisioned in the House bill are spread across the states in relation to their current funding levels.
“There are not adequate resources (in the House plan) to deal with our current need,” said Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore, who called the House budget resolution a “disaster” that would have a real impact on needy families.
“Just to keep the current service levels, you should be adding money to the programs,” Cardin said.
But others dismissed the center’s projections as “scare tactics” and pure speculation about the future years of a budget that has not passed yet. Even advocates concede that the Senate’s version budget resolution does not envision cuts that are nearly as significant for entitlement programs.
“The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report speculates that there could be a scenario that these programs could be cut. Well, yes,” said Brian Riedl, federal budget analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation.
But he said there is just as easily a scenario where spending could be increased. The current budget resolution only sets targets for broad spending areas, which include the entitlement programs.
Riedl challenged the notion that the budget would put any of the entitlement programs in jeopardy. “Nowhere in the budget are there cuts to these programs,” he said.
And he said that any changes in funding, once a final budget is worked out between the House and Senate, would likely be aimed at making the programs better.
“The House resolutions are the first step in combating the waste,” he said. “They are not part of an assault on the poor.”
An aide to Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, agreed with Riedl that it is still much too early in the budget process to be making predictions about specific programs.
“It is very premature and inaccurate to describe it (the funding) as a cut,” said Lisa Wright, Bartlett’s spokeswoman.
But Steve Hill, director of the nonprofit Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute, agrees with Cardin that the House budget is troublesome for Marylanders. He said the state and local governments will be forced to pick up the tab if federal funding falls short.
He pointed to programs like Medicaid, the costs of which are shared by federal and state governments. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities report estimates that Maryland could lose up to $279 million in Medicaid funds over five years under the House resolution.
“I think we all get squeezed,” Hill said. “The state is going to have to fill a larger and larger gap.”
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