Maryland recently released its plan for the next two years of welfare spending. This plan tells the federal government how Maryland intends to use about $800 million in federal and state dollars to help families in poverty. However, the plan does far less than it should do to help poor children and their families.

Take child support, for example. The federal government allows states to "pass through" to a child's family much of the child support collected for a child on welfare. This money improves the family's standard of living so that the child is less likely to suffer from hunger and homelessness. Maryland, however, passes through none of the child support collected for children on welfare. Every penny instead goes into the state treasury.

Another example is Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). The federal government allows states to set up IDAs for welfare recipients to hold as much as $5,000, which recipients then can use for education, to buy a first home or start a business. Maryland, however, has not set up IDAs, and families leave welfare without the benefits IDAs can provide.

Maryland is not a poor state. The median income for a family of four in 1996 was $61,860, the fourth-highest in the nation. The state treasury holds a large surplus. The federal government pays the state more than $200 million a year to spend on poor families, and it requires the state to continue spending about $180 million each year.

The state says that declining welfare rolls make it impossible for it to spend all that federal and state money on poor families, but it is making a choice to be cheap. It is time instead that Maryland spend the money to improve the lives of poor children and their families.

-- Karen Czapanskiy

is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.