By Justin Snow
Republicans are again trying to curb public benefits for illegal immigrants, as they have repeatedly in past years, against the continued opposition of social service groups.
The bill before the House Appropriations Committee would enact stricter laws requiring Marylanders provide proof of lawful presence in order to receive public benefits. For several years, Republicans have introduced similar legislation, but have been rebuffed by the committee.
House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, sponsor of the bill, said it was what Marylanders expected from their government. He added that he was not deterred by the bill’s unfavorable track record in year’s past.
“We should make sure that those limited resources are not going to people who don’t have eligibility for them,” O’Donnell said.
The bill would prohibit state agencies and local governments from providing unauthorized immigrants with benefits not required by federal law. Services such as emergency health care and disaster relief would be exempt.
Representatives from several nonprofits testified against the bill, claiming it would hurt more than help by creating barriers for the homeless and low-income Marylanders who are legal residents but less likely to have the additional documentation needed to receive public benefits.
Moreover, opponents argued that there was no identifiable problem of unauthorized receipt of public benefits largely due to laws already on the books that require proof of residency.
Solution without a problem
“This is a solution looking for a problem,” said Regan Vaughan, the director of social concerns for Catholic Charities.
Adam Schneider of Health Care for the Homeless also pointed to the increased load such legislation would create for the local departments of Social Services. The staffs of many of these departments are stretched thin and lack adequate funding. According to Schneider, they would be forced to hire new full-time positions to deal with the unnecessary paperwork the bill would create.
Several Republicans on the committee defended O’Donnell’s bill and took issue with some of the opponent’s testimony. Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel, disagreed with the assertion that there was no documentation of a problem, citing a report from the Department of Legislative Services that showed thousands of cases of a lack of documentation.
Revoking pensions for convicted officials
Another bill considered by the committee on Tuesday would revoke retirement benefits to any retired public official found guilty of a felony or misdemeanor related to their time in public office.
Sponsored by Del. Ron George, R-Anne Arundel, the bill comes after several corruption scandals in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City.
George hopes to close a loophole left by a 2010 joint Senate resolution that allows an elected official who is not necessarily considered a “retiree” to resign from office shortly before an indictment is issued but still receive retirement benefits. It also adds severe sexual crimes to those that can result in the revocation of benefits.
The bill met with no opposition.