Caught in the economic slump, increasing numbers of Anne Arundel families are defaulting on their mortgages, lining up for food stamps and seeking welfare.
The county's welfare caseload grew by more than 16 percent between September 1989 and September 1990, surpassing the average statewide increase of 10 percent and straining human services programs.
County officials blamed the upswing, which is in line with that of neighboring suburbs, on the sagging economy and the scarring impact of the drug epidemic and AIDS.
"We suspect that the downturn in the economy is the leading factor," said JoAnn Zack, an official with the Department of Social Services. "Some people are losing their jobs. Other people can't find work or are making a lot less money. On top of that there's the drug and alcohol problem."
Families not only are staying on welfare longer, but also are asking for food stamps and medical assistance more frequently, she said.
The number of families receiving benefits through the main federal program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, increased by 9.8 percent from 2,753 in September 1989 to 3,052 this September. Requests for support through Maryland's sister program for the recently disabled, ill or temporarily unemployed rose by a more dramatic 18.2 percent.
Many of the 907 people on General Public Assistance turned to the state program because tightened requirements have limited federal assistance, Zack said.
Requests for food stamps also increased, by 16.8 percent in the last year. The medical assistance program grew by nearly 20 percent, though mainly due to revised guidelines permitting older children in the Pregnant Women and Children's program, she said.
The county has seen an equally abrupt increase in mortgage foreclosures and homelessness in recent months, said officials for non-profit social service agencies.
"It's definitely getting worse now," said Joseph Rock, homeless services coordinator for the Anne Arundel Community Action Agency. "Homelessness is growing every month."
An even more dramatic increase in mortgage foreclosures has agency officials scrambling for solutions, said Deborah Lawrence, housing counselor for the non-profit community advocacy group.
"A lot of times, they (homeowners) depended on two people working to swing the mortgage," she said. "If one of them loses a job or doesn't have work because of the construction slowdown, they're stuck."
From first-time homebuyers to middle-aged couples who have owned their houses for 15 years, more county residents are defaulting on their mortgages and facing foreclosure than in previous years, she said.
Long-time homeowners often face a Catch-22 dilemma because they can't afford to make their regular payments, but their mortgage is lower than area rental fees.
Lawrence and other county officials stressed that the situation is not unique to Anne Arundel County. Most of the metropolitan suburbs in the Baltimore-Washington corridor have seen at least a 16-percent increase in their welfare rolls and rising numbers of foreclosures.