As professionals begin to join the ranks of those applying for welfare, anyone who applies these days faces a two-week wait just to get a first appointment with the Carroll County Department of Social Services.
The declining economy has hit that office, too.
Six months ago, it took just one week to get an appointment. That was before the state-imposed hiring freeze and before the numbers of applicants doubled to 100 a week.
DSS is struggling with fewer staff members to handle the bigger load of clients, said Director M. Alexander Jones.
Since people asking for help may have to wait longer to get it from the government, Jones said his staff is referring people to private agencies --such as Carroll County Food Sunday -- that might be able to give emergency help with food and shelter.
Jones is awaiting a final figure from the state for his fiscal 1990-1991 budget, which will be roughly $3 million for the year beginning July 1, and state approval to fill seven of his 12 vacancies in what used to be a staff of 100.
"We expect some to be approved," Jones said. "We don't know how many. We are trying to get the most critical ones filled."
Four of the staff members work with people who apply for income assistance; one position is for child protective services, and two (one of them part time) are in foster care.
Of the $24 million statewide shortfall projected by the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which oversees the local DSS, $17.4 million can be attributed to an increase in the number of applicants over state projections, Jones said.
This past month, a Carroll County engineer who designed computer systems for a hotel chain found himself jobless and applying for welfare, Jones said. So did an accountant whose bankrupt firm left him with no job or benefits. Jones said those people would be eligible for benefits only if they use up their other resources, including selling their cars or trading them in for much less expensive used cars.
"A lot of times, when people come to us, it's a desperate move," he said. "Nobody plans to go on welfare."
Because of the thousands of people who commute to jobs in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, he said, Carroll is highly affected by a declining economy in urban areas.
Anyone who meets requirements for general public assistance or Aid to Families with Dependent Children is entitled to the money, so cuts must be made in other areas to cover the $17.4 million overage. DHR plans $12 million in cuts so far, most of which do not affect Carroll directly, Jones said.
In addition to the longer wait to apply for benefits, the local DSS also has eliminated its support group for parents who have adopted children with emotional problems, along with a program called "intensive family services," Jones said.
The intensive program used to provide a social worker who met with no more than six families at a time to alleviate problems that could lead to child abuse.
"We're trying to defer some families to other programs," he said. "They may not get as much service, but they get as much as we can give them."
For the adoptive parent group, Jones said he will urge the parents to find some leadership from volunteers, among themselves or through another agency.
Jones emphasized that the increasing numbers of welfare applicants and the declining economy extend statewide and throughout the East and Midwest.
Unlike other states, he said, Maryland's cuts so far don't include layoffs, furloughs or cuts to day care for low-income employees.