Maryland officials, faced with a lawsuit by angry welfare recipients, are expected to announce this week that they will restore benefits for one month to about 10,000 men, women and children cut from the state welfare rolls on Oct. 1.
The suit, filed yesterday by the Baltimore Welfare Rights Organization, charges that the state failed to give enough advance notice to many families before stopping their checks this month. Federal regulations require detailed notice at least 10 days before welfare benefits are canceled or reduced.
State officials acknowledge that they failed to meet certain technical requirements, but blame the problem partly on the Reagan administration, which they say did not give them enough time to issue advance warning of the changes.
The 10,000 recipients were the first of 38,500 who are to be cut this year from Maryland's Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) rolls, based on stricter eligibility rules imposed by the Reagan administration. The rules were published in the Federal Register on Sept. 21, 10 days before they took effect.
"The Reagan timetable made it virtually impossible to meet the Oct. 1 deadline," said Kalman Hettleman, secretary of Maryland's Department of Human Resources.
A spokesman for the federal Office of Family Assistance, which administers AFDC, said Maryland is apparently the only state to be challenged on the issue so far. Several states obtained permission to delay implementation of the new rules and have not yet begun to put the cutbacks into effect. Others sent notices to welfare recipients based on drafts of the new federal rules issued in late August and early September, the spokesman said.
Maryland officials said they expect to restore benefits for October only, and will send notices to the 10,000 recipients, along with thousands more, in time to stop their checks in November. The state is removing recipients from the rolls as quickly as it can determine which ones are no longer eligible, officials said, adding they hope to complete the process by Dec. 31.
The October benefits for the 10,000 recipients amount to $1 million, according to state officials. They said they expect the payments to consist of half state funds and half federal funds, the same formula used for all AFDC benefits. Two federal welfare officials said yesterday they "will have to review" the matter before deciding whether the federal government will pay its $500,000 share.
Meanwhile, Dennis Carroll, a Baltimore Legal Aid Bureau attorney who represents the welfare rights group, said his clients plan to proceed with the lawsuit even if the October benefits are restored. He said several issues remain unresolved, including a decision by the state to cut Medicaid coverage for all families who were eliminated from the welfare rolls.
Hettleman stressed that he believes the department did give "fair and reasonable" notice to those being cut from the rolls. Welfare caseworkers mailed letters to affected families by Sept. 8, warning that their benefits could be reduced or canceled because of the tightened eligibility rules. But the families were not notified of the specific changes until after Sept. 21, officials said.