There is no empirical support for the recent commentary claiming that welfare benefits are discouraging people from jobs ("In Maryland, it pays not to work," Aug. 14). The opinion piece is disingenuous and its recommendations are reckless. Tighten eligibility? Empirical data show that upward of 60 percent of all Maryland cash assistance applications are denied. Toughen work rules? Non-compliance with Maryland work rules stops cash grants. Reduce benefit levels? The maximum monthly cash grant for a Maryland family of three is $576, about 35 percent of the federal poverty level.
The Cato Institute's senior fellow got a few things right. Adult welfare recipients are not lazy. Our research using Maryland employment and welfare records shows that more than 70 percent of adults work before receiving aid and more than 70 percent work afterward. They are not "reluctant" to accept available jobs but, along with thousands of other adults, are competing for a limited number of jobs available. And certainly, minimum wage jobs can be springboards out of poverty. Our research shows that adults' initial post-welfare earnings are often low but increase steadily over time. The op-ed is correct, too, that the minimum wage should be raised. For hard-working Maryland families struggling to make ends meet, however, this would be much more than just a "nicety."
Maryland public policy favors work over welfare and, importantly, the use of facts, not fanciful notions or shopworn stereotypes, as the cornerstone for decision-making. This is why the state legislature has mandated that my colleagues and I at the University of Maryland track and regularly report on welfare outcomes in the state. Maryland uses evidence, not anecdote or innuendo, to make policies which affect its people.
Catherine E. Born, Baltimore
The writer is employed by the University of Maryland-Baltimore School of Social Work.